With more than 50 acres of sunflowers to attract visitors, Holland Ridge Farms buzzes with activity every autumn. Day-trippers of all ages roam the golden fields and cozy up to the bright blooms for selfies. Kids haul bundles of cut flowers nearly twice their size. And, yes, bees are abuzz at the farm, too, going about the business of pollination.
“It’s gorgeous,” said Michael Saffron of Chesterfield during a late-September visit last year. “Everywhere you turn, it’s more sunflowers. It’s great for pictures and great for families, kids and romantics.”
In the fall, the you-pick sunflower season draws daily crowds as large as 3,000 people. In the spring, the tulip season is another agritourist magnet. The farm’s operators claim both month-long celebrations are the largest of their kind on the East Coast. This year’s sunflower season begins September 25 and will last for about five weeks, depending on Mother Nature. (April’s tulip festivities were canceled due to pandemic restrictions. During this fall’s sunflower season, masks will be required. Tickets, which cost $8–$20, must be purchased in advance at hollandridgefarms.com. Ticket limitations are possible.)
The farm in the Monmouth County community of Cream Ridge was established by Casey Jansen Sr., a third-generation tulip grower from Holland. Jansen was 16 when he immigrated to the United States. For years, he was a wholesaler of cut flowers and plants for local markets, a trade he taught his son, Casey Jansen Jr. The father-son team still operates the wholesale business out of greenhouses in Monroe, Freehold and Millstone.
But the elder Jansen had always dreamed of creating a flower paradise for the public. “My dad always said, ‘It’s not what you do for yourself, it’s what you do for other people,’” says Jansen Jr.
In 2017, they purchased the 103-acre Cream Ridge spread, the site of a former dairy farm. That year, their inaugural tulip festival featured more than 1 million vibrant blooms. Visitors came in droves. “We were inundated with people,” says Jansen Jr.
These days, Jansen Jr. manages the farm with his wife Kirsten, and their three boys, Chase, 16, Jake, 15, and Luke, 11. It takes them months of preparation to create the rows of flowers. Using GPS-guided tractors, they plants millions of sunflower seeds in sections that form “a gigantic checkerboard,” says Jansen Jr. The planting is done in stages to ensure there are blooms throughout the season. Wide grass walking paths allow admirers to meander through the sunflowers. Jansen’s sons hand plant the other flowers in the pick-your-own fields, including mums, gladiolas, lilies and dahlias. “I couldn’t do it without them,” he says.
Clippers and buckets are available for free for visitors to cut the sunflowers and other blooms. Flowers cost $1 per stem. Some people bring their own wagons and baskets.
Last fall, Barbara Contegiacomo of Freehold was already planning a return to the farm. “It’s like when you go for your Christmas tree,” she said. “It can be a tradition.”
There’s a lot to experience at the farm, and photo ops are plentiful. Visitors pose within large wooden frames that are staked in the ground next to the sunflower rows. Others ham it up around oversized, yellow Dutch-clog sculptures.
The Jansen family has repurposed the old dairy barns into themed attractions. In the museum, guests can view antique tulip-harvesting equipment donated by Dutch farmers. In the theater, farm-goers rest on hay bales as they watch a video about the farm. The animal barn is home to mini-goats, alpacas, sheep, donkeys, and a steer named Moonshine. The animals roam the pasture during the day. Your nose will lead the way to Bob the Baker, a vendor who sells fresh-from-the-oven treats daily. Food trucks serve additional fare on the weekends.
Once all the visitors leave, the Jansen family and other workers will get their hands dirty again. On the last day of the sunflower season, tillage and tulip-bulb planting begin.
But on that warm day last September, Jansen Jr. was thinking about the future as he watched his sons running through the fields. “My two older ones, their roots are already going into the ground,” said the proud father. “And they don’t even know it.”Click here to leave a comment