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Rutledge celebrates July 4 with sunflower festival

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

RUTLEDGE -- Nothing says happiness quite like a field of sunflowers. This summer, the town of Rutledge is offering the chance to take a little happiness home.

Townsfolk are busily preparing for the 9th Annual Sunflower Farm Festival, set to take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 3 and 4. The festival will take place at the West-Holt family farm at 1430 Durden Road off Interstate 20, exit 105.

Each year, between 7,000 and 9,000 people attend the festival to take in the beauty of the 21-acre West-Holt family sunflower field, peruse arts and crafts booths and enjoy food and entertainment.

It all started with Bobby West and his love for restoring old farm tractors. West got several people in his neighborhood interested in his hobby, and they decided to get together on the Fourth of July and have a tractor parade. Ten years ago, West's sister, Rena Holt, was cutting sunflowers in the field on the Fourth.

"Here comes my brother and his entourage around the curb with flags flying and so forth, along with the tractors and sunflowers and we just thought, 'This is too American not to share with other people,'" Holt said. The next year, the Sunflower Farm Festival was born.

The first year drew about 900 attendees. An article in Southern Living magazine in 2006 helped boost attendance, and they've had a crowd numbering in the thousands ever since.

The tractor parade is still going strong, and will take place at 11 a.m. July 3. The parade can be viewed from the festival grounds.

Perhaps the most popular feature of the festival is the opportunity to pick your own sunflowers. The family provides a vase to "stuff as full as you can" for a $10 fee, Holt said.

The festival will also include an artists' market with nearly 100 vendors, hayrides in a tractor-drawn wagon, live music, games and art projects for children, a petting zoo, pony rides and locally prepared barbecue and other food for sale.

Two historic homes -- the McCowan-McRee house, built in 1811, and the Freeman-Whittaker house, built in 1891 -- are the center of the festival and tours through the houses and their gardens will be available.

On July 4, a golf cart parade will benefit the American Cancer Society. Golf cart owners are invited to decorate their vehicles with sunflowers, in a patriotic theme or in honor of a loved one with cancer, and ride through festival grounds. A $10 entry fee is charged, and participants are asked to collect donations that will be turned over to the American Cancer Society. Prizes will be awarded for the most uniquely decorated golf cart and the participant who raises the most funds. The event raised more than $1,000 last year. Registration forms are available on the festival's website at www.sunflowerfarmfestival.com.

"The whole community helps with this ... It's truly a community event," Holt said. "We just feel like it's very much worthwhile. A lot of money goes back to charity. We support the Cancer Society and the (Morgan County Rotary Club) handles parking and food vending. It's more for charity than it is a fundraiser for this family."

Admission is $5 per person and $2 for kids ages 4 to 12. Children under age 3 get in free. Veterans will also be admitted free on July 4.