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Mila Koumpilova, Published September 10 2007

N.D. community pays homage to sunflower

ENDERLIN, N.D. – It’s been more than a dozen years since sunflower fields bordered this North Dakota town of about 1,000, before, as residents recall, more profitable crops took over. Yet, for the past dozen years, the town has thrown an all-out homage to the sunflower. The Sunflower Festival, in its super-sized 12th edition, features a jam-packed schedule this week.

But wait, can they carry on with hardly a sunflower in sight? And can the festival legitimately hang on to its name when only a handful of events actually involve the title plant? No sunflower purists have yet assailed the festival’s credentials. Instead, Enderlin residents and visitors from the area take a laid back approach – and admit they’re celebrating their sense of community more than the local flora.

“I don’t worry if there’s an actual sunflower involved or not,” said Terri Egan, a long-time resident. “It’s fun to just see your neighbors and visit. It’s a big party for a week.”

It all started in the early 1990s, when the town’s signature event, the Great River Race on the Maple River, lost steam. The town’s movers and shakers brainstormed for a fresh idea.

“We decided to work off what we have, and we have sunflowers,” says Tamra Kriedeman, the festival’s head, who works for the city.

Actually, the town doesn’t have sunflowers per se. With help from North Dakota State University plant sciences, organizers this year procured 30 potted sunflowers to deploy downtown. But what the town does have is ADM-Northern Sun, by far its largest employer and one-time largest sunflower-processing plant in the world. The theme stuck.

In its first year, the festival centered on a sunflower recipe contest. Organizers added events each year. “It just kind of blossomed into this year’s full week,” Kriedeman says.

The festival name has become a bit deceptive in the process, as non-sunflower events came to outnumber the likes of the recipe contest. This week’s lineup features a World War II poster exhibit, a fishing derby, 26 rummage sales, petting zoo, tractor pull and many more attractions, most of them free. (For a full schedule of events, go to www.enderlinnd.com.)

That said, the sunflower-themed events remain among the festival’s surefire crowd-pleasers. The recipe contest now yields more than 50 entries, straining judges’ stomachs. A hit at the very first contest – coleslaw with sunflower seeds and ramen noodles – is an annual staple at the festival fish fry. There’s also the sunflower seed spitting contest and largest sunflower head contest.

Festival participants don’t object to the scarcity of sunflower entertainment.

A concert by bluegrass band Monroe Crossing kicked off the festival Sunday night in the newly renovated old City Hall building. Attendees used plastic-sunflower-tipped pens to sign the guestbook, but the vases decorating the place were filled with daffodils.

Over the years, the festival has become about more than sunflowers, organizers explain. “We just decided it was a time to celebrate us as a community and life in rural North Dakota,” Kriedeman said. “When the festival comes around, it’s like the county fair.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529