KNOX – What started as some landscape improvements for their Knox home soon became a Field of Dreams for many visitors beginning in late August.
Brigette and Jeff Rivers “built it,” and over one million people came, online and in-person, to Sunny B’s 1415 Mehrten Road in Knox. “It” is four acres of sunflowers, a pond, and a vintage 1949 farm truck, a picture-perfect display.
“It started as a beautification project for our property,” Brigette said. “We have been there for about a year and a half. My husband and I started clearing some brush on the property, and then we had a big space, and our yard was big enough already. We didn’t want to mow anymore.
“When we were watching TV and saw pictures from different parts of the world, and these beautiful lavender fields appeared and we decided that’s what we should do. We should plant the lavender to replace the brush area.”
The Rivers knew there was an existing lavender farm in the Knox area and talked with owner Chris Gemmell and asked some questions. Lavender seemed to be a little more work than the couple wanted to do and then settled on sunflowers instead.
“After some planning, we saw that it was going to be pretty grandiose, so we decided we needed to open this up for other people to see,” said Brigette.
“We couldn’t just keep all of these beauties to ourselves. We had to share, so then we started getting different ideas, and we decided, hey, let’s let people take pictures. My husband was then looking on Facebook Marketplace and saw an awesome pickup truck, and we had a local artist Laurie Hartzell paint the logo with sunflowers on the side of the truck.”
“It’s been crazy. We did not expect this much buzz and hype about our little field. We thought we’d share it with the neighborhood and never in our wildest dreams thought it would reach so many people. It’s amazing.”
Brigette and Jeff wanted to create a nice place to take photos, which evolved into something much more. As the word got out, professional and amateur photographers shared their photos on Facebook, and many reposted the field of dreams at Sunny B’s.
For example, photographer Timothy Rudisille of Oil City recorded over a million views of the sunflowers on Sunday. “It went over the 1,000,000 mark yesterday (Sunday), and it’s still chugging along,” wrote Tim. “It’s like a big freight train the way it picked up speed, over a million viewers in four days; it’s fun watching them all come in.”
There was no admission fee, and there was plenty of space available for social distancing.
“We created a Facebook page when we planted a couple of months ago, and nobody really liked the page, and there was no interest in the page. And then when those babies bloomed on Aug. 26, it exploded like literally. Oh, yeah, I mean that the website blossomed, and everything went off like crazy. As of Sunday, there were 6,642 followers of Sunny B’s on Facebook.
“I honestly don’t know that I can count how many have come, but next year we need to have like a sign-in sheet or something just to have an idea of how many people.”
“In these days of doom and gloom talk, there was just something uplifting about the sunflowers. I did get some time to talk with some of our visitors, and it’s emotional for me to remember all of the thank you’s from our visitors. One elderly woman was overcome with emotion, and she said the field was beautiful, and it made her feel good. I had other people say it reminded them of other places of comfort and the goodwill seems to spread throughout the crowd.”
The symmetry of the sunflower field was also planned with help from family and friends.
“We hired Roy Shreffler, a local farmer, to plant for us because we tried planting ourselves and bought a Hobby Farm planter from Tractor Supply and were unsuccessful with that. Roy sent Paul Kaltenbach Jr. over. Paul was one of my former students at Keystone, and he planted it for us.
“They did that for a minimal cost, and it was awesome. Ryan Beckett from Long Acre Potato Farms out by North Clarion got us all of our fertilizer and seeds. It’s been a big effort. My kids, eight-year-old twins Grant and Kennedy Irwin, were also instrumental. Those two kids are workers. They’ve helped us with getting rid of the brush and helped us every step of the way and meeting people, and it’s just been a total family project.”
In her 14th year as a teacher at Keystone, Brigette said they will need to do the project next year before school starts.
“We need to plan sooner, and I’m thinking of maybe doing it right around Horsethief Days. That way, people are in town, and maybe it’ll draw more people to the festival. It would just be about two weeks sooner than we did this year.”
With Sunny B’s closing on Labor Day, Brigette and Jeff will “try harvesting some ourselves for us to eat and just try roasting the stuff and see how it goes.”