The sunny side of the seed

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flowers 2When it comes to flowers, Matt Garbee takes “go big or go home” to the extreme: He uses 80 acres to grow his sunny-faced blooms. That space, spanning nearly three-fourths of a mile, is bursting to the seams with a few flowers — if a few can be defined as nearly 2.5 million.

You may have guessed that Matt isn’t your typical gardner, and his agricultural pursuits aren’t purely for pleasure. Owner of Garbee Land and Livestock, Matt is a farmer and sunflowers are one of his crops.

It hasn’t always been that way: Sunflowers were added to the lineup only around five years ago, but they quickly proved a success. Since that first year’s 15 acres, Matt has expanded by more than five times that amount. “They’re cheaper to raise than traditional crops,” says Matt, who also raises corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa and some livestock. Other benefits of sunflowers include their drought resistance and quick growing season. “They’re fast,” says Matt. “That’s the reason we can plant them late in the season and still get a crop.”

In this case, fast is defined in weeks. All it takes is around 60 days for those big and beautiful blossoms, towering at five, six and seven feet, to sway in the breeze. And people have noticed. “I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” says Matt, a native of the Billings area. “People like to see them, you know.”

I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” says Matt, a native of the Billings area. “People like to see them, you know.”

And see them they do, especially through the lenses of cameras. The fields have become a popular photo backdrop for individual shoots all the way up to weddings. And Matt doesn’t mind at all. “That’s cool, I don’t care,” he says.

But while Matt is generous in allowing visitors, he’s not as happy about people taking other things —namely the flowers themselves. “It’s not much money, but it’s the principle,” he says, citing people who have hauled off great numbers of the flowers. “Those knuckleheads who cut them and take them home…that’s not right.”

Of course, the flowers were planted for more than just a epic photo backdrop. After they’re mature, they’re cut and processed through a combine. Drying is also an important step and can take weeks. “That’s the trick, getting them dry,” says Matt. “They’ll mold if you don’t take care.” The seeds eventually find their way to market via local companies such as Pennington Seed and Andrews Farm & Seed.

While it’ll soon be too late to see this group of blooms at their best, don’t worry. Matt’s got another round planted, so mark your calendar. You heard it here first: “At the end of September, there’ll be a s***load of them.”

Want to see?
Head towards Billings and turn left at Highway 14. Follow it a few miles. In typical Ozarks fashion, you’re close once you hit “the big curve that cuts to the left.”