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Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Sunflower Project: How Hope Blooms For All, With Love and Beauty For A Great Cause

Petra Vester stands in front of the King Kong variety of sunflowers growing in the plot on Given Road

By Moira Grainger

If you haven’t have a chance to see the giant sunflower field growing on Given Road this summer, here are a few facts on why it’s so easy to fall in love with these gorgeous blooms:

1. They’re yellow, a sign of creativity, original thought and enthusiasm. Yellow is uplifting to spirits and gives us hope, optimism and confidence.

2. They look towards the sun and always follow the light, as we all need to.  When you’re looking at the sun, you are not focused on the darkness behind you.

3. They don’t care how fast things around them grow – they are doing their own thing. As in taking the magic of a garden from seed to seedling to six-footer in just six weeks! And gi-normous blooms a week or two after!

4. They are beautiful when they open up and provide a source of nourishment for other creatures – insects, bees, birds and people. Sunflowers grow with everything they have, only to give it all away to others.  We could take a lesson from that.

5. They grow in crazy conditions.  Sunflowers are strong enough to tolerate the hottest and driest summers.  That alone makes them somewhat magical. Without much help, they manage to be beautiful, strong, cheerful and giving.

If that’s not enough to impress, consider these additional bits of information:

6. The name sunflower comes from the Greek helios "sun" and anthos "flower." The sunflower got its name because the flowers rotate east to west each day to follow the sun. 

7. Mature sunflowers stop tracking the sun's movement and permanently remain facing east instead of moving east to west. Each flowerhead can produce up to 1,000 seeds.

8. They are a humble flower and have become a symbol of true faith and loyalty to something that is much bigger and brighter than themselves.

What’s the story behind this? That field of sunflowers growing in our Village evolved from a blend of inspiration, desperation, creativity and community collaboration that found its first seeds in early March.  

Local resident Petra Vester, a veteran cyclist known for her relentless and enthusiastic support of JDRF, knew that during COVID-19, cycling would be her sanity-saver and the answer to a crushing loss of fundraising opportunities for JDRF.  As Petra shared recently in her daily blog,

Hannah and Petra Vester on their first JDRF ride in 2012

“When the pandemic began, I decided to still do my ride training, even knowing there would not be an in-person ride for JDFR this year.  After all, riding keeps us sane and healthy, and gives us a chance to get out safely in this world. I’d ride and sometimes wonder: how will we help JDRF stay on mission through all this? It seemed dark, perhaps impossible. I often ride by an uncultivated farm field, one just a half mile from my home. Most of it sits empty. The seed of an idea came to my daughters Sarah, Hannah and me: What if we could fill that field with sunflowers, watch them grow as we rode each day, and when they blossomed, sell them to help fund a cure?”

And so they did.  Finding a gruff but kindly collaborator in the elderly Mr. Grubbs, who owns the cornfield adjacent to some very weathered farm buildings, the Vester women got to work.  Grubbs promptly agreed to the project and had a 6-foot by 120-foot plot tilled. On June 16, the Vester threesome planted 1,400 seeds, hoping for the best.  To help jump-start the seedlings, the women made car caravans carrying coolers filled with water and used pitchers and watering cans to tend to their plot.  Magically, more than 800 seeds survived and flourished. 

The journey continued, as Petra explains. “Each day I’d ride by and see growth. First, tiny green shoots (the germination of hope, I thought!). Then, stalks (reaching out to remind me to stay positive! I decided.) And then: the buds. They are now blooming, and with those blooms so too has grown my knowledge that I can and will help diabetes research continue to grow through this challenging time.”

Fast forward to fall. Petra is excited that “We’ve harvested so many sunflowers!!! Here’s what we’ve been doing with them.  This has become a story with a call to action: How hope can blossom and you can help! It’s been such a strange year in so many ways, and how we are riding to help cure Type 1 diabetes is no exception.” 

As of early September, the team has harvested over 400 flowers; left another 400 for birds and bees to enjoy; and donated 19 arrangements to local senior living facilities.  Petra has continued her own biking journey, logging 156 days since the official stay at home order and 90 days on her bike as of the end of August.

Mature sunflower heads can  yield as many as 1,000 seeds

The Vester team invites the community to join them in their JDRF virtual ride, aptly named “Hope Blooms for All.” The Vesters are selling sunflowers in bunches of 5, at $25 a bunch (all of that going to JDRF and its mission) as long as the blooms last, and will arrange for safe pick up or delivery.  And if supporters live out of town, these ladies will be happy to deliver the purchased sunflowers to a senior in an assisted living facility in our area. Says Petra, “After all, this pandemic means they (the nursing homes) need even more love than ever.”

“Hope Blooms For All” is the continuation of the Vesters’ long-term commitment to JDRF. Petra explains: “Eight years ago this month we were just heading out for our first #JDRFRide in La Crosse Wisconsin. We had a great time and completed our first century together. Since then Hannah and I have done nine additional rides together. What a blast we have had! Too bad this year Covid-19 put a damper on our streak, but we will be back! JDRF has made such a difference in our lives. The research backed by JDRF funds has made huge improvements in Hannah’s management of Type 1 Diabetes. And the research has to continue! Covid-19 showed up but T1D didn’t go away. Young and old continue to be diagnosed with T1D!”

As the Vester girls sum it all up in their social media posts, “Sunflowers symbolize adoration, loyalty and longevity. Sunflowers are known for being happy flowers making them the perfect gift during this time of uncertainty. And to the Vester family, they now also symbolize hope. We planted, they grew, and now, they’re going to do even more than bring smiles to faces. #JDRFMyRide #JDRFRide 

To be part of the How Hope Blooms For All project, readers can visit the link below or stop by Petra Vester’s FaceBook or Instagram profile to participate.  Why not bring some sunshine and hope to someone you know?  

To donate:

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