The annual sunflower bloom in Mattituck has in recent years turned into such a distraction for drivers on Sound Avenue, that flower lovers have begun pulling over in droves to snap pictures and snatch blooms. Just like fans of Lavender By The Bay, sunflower fans have begun contacting the growers, North Fork Potato Chips, to find out when peak bloom season begins.
“We had fields of sunflowers growing and all of a sudden there’d be 20 cars pulled over,” North Fork Potato Chips owner Carol Sidor exclaimed. “It’s beautiful and we appreciate people wanting to stop, but it almost became a driving hazard!”
Hard to believe that this stunning roadside attraction has actually been a test crop to see if sunflowers can be successfully harvested on the North Fork.
The Sidor family have been growing potatoes on their Mattituck farm since 1910. In 2004 Martin and Carol Sidor began making potato chips from their own potatoes, creating North Fork Potato Chips. Real sunflower oil was always an ingredient in their chips, but it had to be purchased and is expensive, so a few years ago the Sidors decided to grow and harvest their own.
The Sidor’s daughter Cheryl, who helps run the sunflower operation and does all of the farm’s social media, credits her mother Carol with choosing sunflower oil to cook their chips in.
“She researched and determined it was the healthiest oil that could be kettle cooked in large quantities,” Cheryl Sidor explained. “We have a 400-pound vat.”
The Sidors began planting sunflowers, as a test crop, in 2011.
“We were planting the oil flower, which is different from the cut flower,” Carol Sidor explained. “The flower head is full of seeds, which have oil in them. My husband said, ‘we’ll harvest some, have somebody press the oil, how hard can it be?'”
What the Sidors didn’t plan on was several years of wet, stormy weather, partnered with competition from every wild creature in the area, including birds, deer, rabbits, and squirrels, feasting on their crop.
“We had Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, nor’easters destroyed two crops,” Martin Sidor recalled. “Too much rain and moisture gets into the pod and rots them. We started harvesting two years ago and it was just mush.”
Just as the sunflower crop was beginning to look like a complete wash, the Sidors came up with the sunflower maze.
“We have the maze as insurance,” Mr. Sidor said. “The maze pays for the insurance, labor, seed. In a way that’s my insurance for the crop.”
Using a truck to push and press a path through the sunflowers, the Sidors create a gorgeous tapestry in which visitors can walk, explore and photograph sunflowers to their heart’s content.
“There’s something very spiritual about the maze,” Cheryl Sidor explained. “It gives you a different viewpoint on life and I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s given me a different viewpoint. After working in rehabilitation counseling and going out in the world, I come home to the sunflowers and I breathe.”
Determining peak sunflower bloom is hard because the planting has been staggered to extend the season, but Cheryl estimates that early August should see the first peak. Along with the maze, cut sunflowers will be available for purchase and benches for visitors to sit and enjoy the moment.
Visiting hours for the North Fork Potato Chip Sunflower Maze will run from 10 a.m. to sunset. A private one-hour session in the field alone can be booked, for a price, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. This time has been set aside for photographers, yoga classes, marriage proposals, and other special requests, but must be booked in advance.
“We want to give people the opportunity to have the field all to themselves for special events,” Cheryl said. “We already have people bringing their horses, dogs, doing family photos, engagement shoots, proposals.”
Don’t worry, the Sidors haven’t given up on harvesting their own sunflower oil just yet and plan to give it another try. This year they’ve expanded the flower fields from 15 to 20 acres. Even if the oil doesn’t pan out, an upstate company has already expressed interest in turning the sunflowers into cattle feed and a Riverhead company is ready to make them into birdseed.
“There are several outlets for the sunflowers,” Martin Sidor said. “So even if we don’t press them, the money that comes from that would pay for it, but the insurance is the maze.”
“These are such happy flowers and it’s really all up to Mother Nature,” Cheryl Sidor exclaimed. “All we do is put the seed in the ground and the rest is up to her.”
For directions, visiting hours, prices and more information, call 631-298-5907 or visit https://www.northforkchips.com/.