Jericho Couple's Record-Tall Sunflower Wins Blue Ribbon at the Fair | True 802 | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Jericho Couple's Record-Tall Sunflower Wins Blue Ribbon at the Fair


John and Kerry Young - COURTESY OF THE YOUNGS
  • Courtesy Of The Youngs
  • John and Kerry Young

John and Kerry Young knew this year's sunflower was a winner.

For decades, they've been growing giant sunflowers, along with giant tomatoes, pumpkins and more, on their modest half-acre property in Jericho. The couple holds the Vermont state record for largest tomato (6.44 pounds) and cabbage (23 pounds), as well as longest gourd (135.75 inches), according to the Vermont Giant Pumpkin Growers Association. At the Champlain Valley Fair in 2007, they claimed the title of the state's tallest sunflower with a 16-foot-8-incher.

This summer's flowers had at least a foot on their 2007 winner, John Young figured.

Transporting a giant sunflower has proven a tricky mission over the years — trickier than growing them, and trickier than moving something such as a giant pumpkin, Young said. In fact, the delicate logistics required seem to be one reason the sunflower division isn't more competitive.

"We've won the sunflower competition I-don't-know-how-many years, sometimes with what I think are smaller ones, 11 or 12 feet tall," Young said. "I think a lot of it is ... Is the juice worth the squeeze?"

Fair rules require that the plants be presented with their roots. So Young constructed an enormous wooden scaffold that looked a bit like a gallows. The sunflower sits in a five-gallon bucket placed inside a wooden box at the scaffold's base.

Even the transplant step is precarious. Young harvested his tallest sunflower a couple days too early; the summer heat scorched it black. He had to settle for his second best.

Young duct-taped the giraffe-like flower's stem to the scaffold's wooden arm, then slid the whole contraption sideways into the back of his pickup truck.

To protect the leaves and flowers from the wind during the drive, the Youngs wrapped the entire length of the plant in several sheets. Then they drove off, carefully, with the precious sunflower and a long gourd hanging out the back and a utility trailer containing a 500-pound pumpkin in tow.

The sunflower measured in at 17 feet, 10 inches — a new state record, and good enough for the blue ribbon. The Youngs won a cash prize, too: $20.

The original print version of this article was headlined "A Fair Flower"