BY ALEXIS WARD
These tulips traveled across the world.
Brown Hill Farms, 405 E. Avery Station Road, Lemon Twp., is famous for its 20 acres of vibrant summer sunflowers. But this year, the farm strove to add a little color to the springtime, inspired by a visit to a New England tulip farm.
“After (my husband Scott and I) visited the farm, I wrote a couple emails to a farm in Holland that sells bulbs,” recalled Michele Brown, the farm’s agritourism manager. “Two days later, I get a call from Simon Ruigrok (of Ruigrok Flowerbulbs) who says he’s two miles from my farm, and can he come visit us? Didn’t even answer my email, just called me. So he visited, helped us through the selection and where to plant them, and we bought 60 varieties of bulbs that day. Talk about customer service.”
The Brown family has farmed the same land since 1868 and today plants anywhere from 1,600 to 2,000 acres of crops each year. Originally a dairy farm, Brown Hill Farms sold the herd in 2001 and shifted its focus to corn, soybeans, hay and vegetables to grow products to sell at roadside stands in the summer along Route 29 near Tunkhannock.
Then, in 2005, Brown Hill Farms began to grow sunflowers to fill a local need at Ross Feeds, located in Hop Bottom and Kingsley. Faced with increasing community interest in its picturesque sunflower fields, the farm opened to the public in 2017 with events and photo opportunities.
“You have to be very open-minded,” said Scott Brown, one of three generations working the farm, alongside his father, Philip, and his son, Jacob. “It’s hard to make a change, but if you’re willing to do it, I think you can adapt.”
The positive community response to the farm’s sunflower fields pushed the growers to make the leap to tulip fields this year. The Browns bought and planted 370,000 bulbs from Ruigrok Flowerbulbs to fill four acres with tulips arranged into 24 color-coded specialty gardens.
“I’m really happy with how the public has reacted to the things we do,” Scott said. “It’s amazing how many people follow the Facebook page and are really excited to come to the farm. Hopefully they’ll be able to see the tulips, but even if they can’t, the beauty’s still going to be there.”
With COVID-19 limiting the ability to travel, Brown Hills Farm has had to cancel its tulip-related events. But Scott and Michele have investigated alternatives, such as roadside pickup, drive-throughs, shipping tulip bouquets, and bringing tulips to nursing homes and hospitals for people unable to visit their family members.
“I’m so determined to do this and bring this to the area — I’m not going to give up on this,” Michele said. “If not this year, we’re going to have this next year.”
By signing up for the Brown Hills email newsletter, the public can receive information about tickets for visiting the tulip fields, curbside delivery and UPS bouquet delivery.
Pandemic-permitting, Michele also has some new events cooked up for the summer.
“I’m adding two more specialty fields to the sunflowers — a field of red flowers and a field of miniature sunflowers,” she said. “We also want to have a sweetcorn festival during the sunflower festival.”
The Browns also hope they can offer their usual autumnal festivities, including their pumpkin patch.
Ultimately, the Browns aim for their farm to educate the public and get them engaged with the natural world, a rarity in today’s convenient, technological world.
“Education is our future,” Scott said. “Everybody is getting so far removed from agriculture that they don’t understand it. They don’t know where their food comes from. So it’s great to be able to be open and have people come and learn.”
They also hope the community will have the opportunity to enjoy their new fields.
“I love tulips,” Michele said. “It’s springtime, we’re waiting for new life, and there’s this explosion of vibrant colors. I can’t even explain it. It’s just a calming feeling, being in the fields.”
Scott said they hope “that this is a real bright spot for the community.”
“We’re hoping these are blooming when the rest of the country is back in shape,” he added. “I think people are going to be really looking forward to getting out and enjoying life. We’re hoping that the tulips are blooming right about that same time and really brightening the world.”
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