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Sunflower Map Connects N.D. Tourism & Agriculture

Friday, August 21, 2020
filed under: News

Every summer, the phones start ringing at the National Sunflower Association, as well as at the North Dakota Tourism Department, with questions about sunflower fields.  Callers want to know where they can find a field in full bloom.  Many want to take senior pictures or engagement photos; some callers even want to plan a marriage proposal in a field of blooming ’flowers.

Those phone calls gave the staff at the North Dakota Commerce Department, of which Tourism is a division, an idea.  Why not make a map of sunflower fields — and then update that map each week so people can find up-to-date information with just a few clicks of the mouse.

In 2019, with help from the National Sunflower Association and producers, North Dakota Tourism debuted the first-ever sunflower map.  The map was hosted on the tourism department’s website and shared on social media.  The sunflower map featured 10 fields across North Dakota, from Mott to Lakota, Bismarck to Dickinson. 

Tourists, both from out of state and in North Dakota, couldn’t get enough.  The project got media coverage from local newspapers and television stations, as well as national outlets, including CNN, Travel and Leisure and House Beautiful.  The sunflower map was the most visited page on the tourism website: more than 15,000 visits were recorded — that’s more visits

“We know social media is about more than just inspiration and a pretty picture,” explains Alicia Jolliffe, social strategist at the North Dakota Department of Commerce.  “It’s also about customer service.  We noticed that when we shared pictures of sunflower fields, we needed to also share some information about those fields, including where people could see one for themselves.  The sunflower map filled that need.  It was a surprisingly simple and smooth process, and people really seemed to appreciate it.”

The 2019 map definitely got people’s attention.  Then Jolliffe heard from people who were anxiously waiting for the 2020 version, and who were spreading the word about the map even before it was ready.  “It was really neat to see that this was a tool that people were excited to see again in 2020,” she adds. 

So how do you improve on such a successful project?  Add more fields.  The 2020 map featured nearly twice as many sunflower fields, from Wyndmere to Ray, Cannonball to Mohall, and several around the Bismarck and Mandan area.  As of early August, growers were continuing to call and add their fields.

NSA president and Bismarck area producer Clark Coleman sees the value in adding his fields to the map.  Coleman’s fields are just outside the Bismarck city limits, some along Bismarck’s scenic River Road, with the Missouri River in the background. 

“I’ll see pictures of sunflower on social media, and I’ll notice something in the background that I recognize — and then I say, ‘Hey that’s my field!’ ” Coleman says.  “It’s surprising how many senior pictures and wedding pictures are being taken in our sunflower fields right now.  A sunflower field in full bloom is a pretty cool thing, and it only lasts a couple of weeks out of the year, which makes them even more special.”

For Coleman, it’s also an opportunity to educate people about agriculture.  North Dakota is a top producer of sunflower in the nation, and agriculture is among the state’s top industries. Still, Coleman says, many people don’t truly understand the importance of farms, especially in how it relates to the food they eat. 

“It’s so important for city people and non-agriculture people to understand where their food comes from,” he says.  “To see how it’s done in big volumes is important — and to see a sunflower field and realize that’s where the oil they buy at the grocery store comes from.”

This year, mailboxes were added to a few fields, including three of Coleman’s.  The mailboxes are filled with complimentary sunflower seed snack packs. There’s also a QR scan code that returns visitors to the sunflower map on the tourism website. 

“Those mailboxes are an easy way we can make a connection between the sunflower seeds we’ve always given out at different events and these fields that we’re highlighting on the sunflower map,” Jolliffe explains.  “It’s a natural connection between the two, and we’re excited to see how it performs.”

Mailboxes may be added to more fields in 2021.  The mailboxes could include even more information to educate visitors about sunflower and agriculture in general.

“We try to include an educational portion in everything we do.  We love to share pretty pictures on social media; but we also want to provide helpful information.  We try to always give interesting tidbits when about agriculture when we share a farming or ranching photo on social media,” Jolliffe says.  “Agriculture is huge in North Dakota and people enjoy learning about it. That goes beyond sunflower, of course.  We have beautiful fields of wheat, barley and canola.  Flax is another crop we get lots of questions about.  People want to take pictures of those fields when they are blooming.”

With that, she emphasizes the importance of respecting the farmers’ property.  Jolliffe reminds people who stop at the fields on the map, or any field, to take photos from outside the fields.  “These fields, while beautiful, are a farmer’s livelihood.  It’s important we respect that and not damage the fields for a picture.”

You can find the map at ndtourism.com

The South Dakota Department of Tourism has started a similar campaign, but without specific fields.  Find it at www.travelsouthdakota.com and search “sunflower.”
 Jody Kerzman     
 
 
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