Surround yourself in bright yellow joy this season with a drive through the sunflower fields of Yolo County. This time of year, you’ll see acres upon acres of this happy flower that inspired even a soulful Van Gogh painting. More than just beauty, sunflowers play an important part in our local and global economy as a key ingredient in many of our favorite foods.
Spring and summer are a great time to see sunflowers when the weather is getting warmer and the sun shines a bit longer. The blooms will be in view mid-June through mid-July depending on planting and weather conditions.
Yolo County is sunflower central. Our valley has perfect conditions for growing them. California farmers grow about 70,000 acres of sunflower annually, mostly in the Sacramento Valley, for hybrid seed stock. Nearly 95 percent of the sunflower seeds grown in Yolo County are sent around the world to be planted for oil and travel as far away as Russia, Ukraine and Argentina.
Add sunflower seeds to a fresh salad, grain bowl, granola or trail mix for their clean, nutty taste and nutrition. Just one ounce has 5.5 grams of protein and they’re especially high in vitamin E and selenium which function as antioxidants fighting free radical damage from several chronic diseases according to healthline.com.
Sunflowers are also produced for their oil. How are the seeds different? Sunflowers grown for snacking have large seeds with black and white stripes and sunflowers grown for oil have smaller, black seeds.
The common name “sunflower” typically refers to the popular annual species Helianthus annus. The Helianthus species was cultivated by Native Americans about 3000 B.C. but it was the Russian Orthodox Church that ensured its popularity by forbidding the consumption of animal fat during Lent. Sunflower oil was a natural substitute and usage continued to grow as the world has learned more about its high nutritional value.
As you drive among the blooms, do keep in mind that the fields are private property and should onlybe viewed from the road. The large crowds that have come in the past have done considerable damage to farmers’ businesses, which is especially frustrating for them. We understand the desire to be among the blooms, but please DO NOT wander into the fields.
Explore the area on your own or enjoy any of a dozen locally crafted itineraries including farm tours, bike rides, family activities and of course food and wine tastings. Choose to visit three or six participating wineries for a smart price with the Yolo County Tasting Pass.
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