Open Spaces

A Crop of Sunshine


story and photography by Paul McFadden

There was to be no solar eclipse in Barrington Hills on August 21 this year. That solar event would be visible to viewers far to our south. Yet, Barrington Hills would have an entirely different solar event on that day, because Barrington Hills Farm had planted 50 acres of sunflowers this past spring.

On August 21, the entire 50-acre crop of sunflowers was in full bloom—a 50-acre crop of sunshine, a 50-acre solar event. A beautiful sight to see.

Due to different soil conditions, the sunflowers ranged in height from one foot (just a few) up to nine feet for an extreme example. Most are in the four-to five-foot range and carry blooms from five inches upwards to 10 or 11. (The blooms are not called blossoms, they are called “heads” and can contain several thousand seeds, but we are going to call them blooms.)The blooms face to the east and catch the rising sun.

They stay that way, too, until harvested either by man or animals or birds. Someday, I will read up on the east facing directional thing and not understand a bit of it. It was commonly thought that the blooms tracked the sun all day, but not so. I read on the internet that some say the leaves might show signs of phototrophic, or sun-tracking behavior. I also read that the blooms or parts of them are multi-sexual and of course, I don’t understand that either. Which gender decides if a “headache” is really bad enough?

The plants will have been harvested by October and trucked up to an elevator in Southern Wisconsin. Although they are the oil variety, they probably will be processed for bird seed since the oil processing facilities are primarily out in the Plains states, producing 1,004,630 tonnes of oil in the United States in 2016. Each seed is approximately 28 percent oil.

The bees and butterflies love them, but they don’t like to share. A butterfly “displays” as soon as a bee comes near his flower. Bees, the great pollinators, and there were many of them, share blossoms readily with each other.

Bird lovers, you would have loved to traverse these fields. There are too many kinds of birds to mention, but I did get a far distant photo of an indigo bunting; I only see one of those a year. I tried to catch a photo of a hummer flitting from bloom to bloom one morning, but never did catch up to him. Another morning, he was just curious about me being there and buzzed over my head for a few moments.

Right now, as we are writing this, the huge flocks of redwing blackbirds are just starting to form up, a flock of them visited the field I was in this morning. Pretty little goldfinches were quite active, too.

In keeping with its wide-open spaces philosophy, the 700-acre Barrington Hills Farm has over a mile of bridle trails that are used by the area’s equestrian community. You might say they stopped “to smell the sunflowers."

Barrington Hills Farm is nearly 700 acres of pristine, undeveloped land located at Haegers Bend and Spring Creek Roads in the northwestern most corner of Barrington Hills. The rarity of Barrington Hills lies in its open space, fresh air, clean water, and abundant wildlife. The land is precious and delicate and in constant need of stewardship to keep it that way. – Dawn M. Davis, President of Barrington Hills Farm.

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Paul McFadden has lived in unincorporated Algonquin for nearly 50 years. The Barrington Hills area and especially what was then the MacArthur Farm and now is Barrington Hills Farm offer abundant opportunities for McFadden and his camera to commune with nature. He may be reached at