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New Annual Event: Sunflower Festival in Peña Blanca!

Pena_Blanca_Sunflower-1

New Mexico's newest agricultural festival is coming in August. The Peña Blanca Sunflower Project will host its first Sunflower Festival on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 25-26, at the community center on NM 22 in Peña Blanca.

"Since the [2011] Las Conchas Fire destroyed Dixon Orchards, we decided to offer an event where families may continue the tradition of an outing in the country," said Patrice Harrison-Inglis, coordinator of the project. "A field of sunflowers is a beautiful sight. I think people will want to put our festival on their annual calendar."

Harrison-Inglis envisions the Peña Blanca Sunflower Project
as an economic development vehicle for her community. With a grant from the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, she planted a demonstration field in 2011 to show her neighbors the possibilities. This year, many neighbors have followed suit and planted either oilseed or confectionery varieties of sunflowers.

"I see Peña Blanca as '˜the sunflower place.' Kind of like Hatch is the green chile place," she said. "This area is the perfect location for a small-scale specialty crop and a beautiful festival every fall where people from Albuquerque and Santa Fe could come out and enjoy seeing the fields."

The Sunflower Festival organizers plan to have tours of the fields in the area. Activities also will include educational exhibits about the crop, as well as booths where people will sell their art, crafts and vegetable produce. And, of course, there will be sunflower products for people to buy and enjoy!

Directions:  To reach Peña Blanca, exit I-25 at the Santo Domingo exit and travel west to Cochiti Lake; signage will indicate the community center location.

Call for Vendors:  Art, craft and produce vendors, as well as food concessions and musicians are welcome to reserve booth space now at discount rates by calling the festival organizers at 505-917-8189.

See this year's crop being planted at the Peña Blanca Sunflower Project website:  www.oilgrowers.blogspot.com.

Background

The Peña Blanca Sunflower Project is an economic development project supported by New Mexico Department of Agriculture and New Mexico State University's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Several farmers in the Peña Blanca area have planted sunflowers this year under the direction of Del Jimenez, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service agricultural specialist at NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde.

"We've always known sunflowers would grow here because of the wildflowers that are along the roads and in our fields," Jimenez said. "We are looking for a crop that will sustain itself, be useful for the people growing it and have a market."

Sunflowers are a native North American plant, believed to have existed naturally as early as 3,000 B.C. in the area that is now New Mexico and Arizona. The seeds were primarily used as food. They were ground for baking flour or cracked to be eaten like nuts. Sunflower seeds also were a source of purple dye used as body paint and to decorate baskets and textiles.

Today, the bright yellow flower yields seeds that are processed for cooking oil, confectionery use in snacks, and birdseed.
Nationally 2.7 billion pounds of seeds were produced in 2011 with a value of $582.5 billion. Sunflowers are primarily grown in the Great Plains areas of Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and North Dakota. Some Eastern New Mexico farmers raise sunflowers as an alternative crop when the market value is at its height.  

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