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Fun in the sun: Sunflower Fest blooms this weekend

These sunflowers wait to greet celebrants at this weekend's Sunflower Farm Festival in Rutledge.

These sunflowers wait to greet celebrants at this weekend's Sunflower Farm Festival in Rutledge.

RUTLEDGE -- A decade into its run, organizers of the Sunflower Farm Festival are touting it as the biggest event in Morgan County, and they hope this year will be even bigger.

An extra day of fun has been added, expanding the two-day festival to three days in celebration of the Fourth of July holiday as well as the festival's 10th anniversary. This year, the event will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Monday at Sunflower Farm at 1430 Durden Road in Rutledge.

As usual, the festival is built around the 15-acre sunflower field on property owned by the West/Holt families in Rutledge. The field is expected to be at its peak bloom over the holiday weekend, said organizer Wes Holt.

"We have a $15 bucket and you can put as many sunflowers in it as you can take home," Holt said of the popular pick-your-own sunflowers feature. For those who can't make the festival, the field is open for picking and tours daily through July 17.

Throughout the weekend there will be live music, culminating with the Red, White and Bluegrass Celebration on Monday, featuring three bluegrass bands and headlined by Packway Handle Band of Athens. The group plays alternative bluegrass that appeals to younger fans, Holt said.

About 110 exhibitors will participate in the artists and crafters market, and there will be plenty for kids to do, including hayrides through the sunflower field, an enchanted forest with games and activities, pony rides and a petting zoo. Camp Twin Lakes is a partner for the event, and counselors will be on hand with activities and music for the kids.

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

The community tractor parade will head by festival grounds at 11 a.m. Monday. It was the spectacle of local farmers riding tractors decked out with patriotic paraphernalia that inspired the festival 10 years ago. Bobby West got several folks interested in his hobby of restoring old tractors, and they decided to get together on the Fourth of July and have a tractor parade. West's sister, Rena Holt, was cutting sunflowers in the field on the Fourth when they all rode by.

"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 in a previous interview with the Citizen. 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. Last year drew close to 10,000 revelers and organizers are anticipating as many as 15,000 this year.

Those with golf carts, bicycles and other "silent transportation" are invited to participate in the Cruise for a Cure at 2:45 p.m. Sunday. Vehicles will be decorated with sunflowers, in patriotic theme or in honor of a loved one with cancer and parade through festival grounds. A $10 registration fee benefits Morgan County Relay for Life. Registration forms are available at www.sunflowerfarmfestival.com. Registration can be done the day of the event as well. Prizes will be given for the most uniquely decorated golf cart and the participant who raises the most funds for Relay.

The festival, co-sponsored by the Morgan Rotary Club, promises to be a "relaxing, fun thing to do with your family," Holt said.

Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children age 4 to 12 and free for children under 4. A three-day pass can be purchased for $10. Military veterans and current service members are admitted free on Monday.