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A Sunflower Farm Invited Tourists. It Ended Up Like a ‘Zombie Apocalypse.’

This is a story about a good idea gone awry.

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Laura M. Holson
, New York Times

This is a story about a good idea gone awry.

Two weeks ago, a Canadian seed farm in Hamilton, Ontario, opened its gates to visitors, allowing them to wander through 70 bucolic acres of towering, buoyant sunflowers. Provence may have its pastoral lavender fields. But Hamilton, which is an hour outside of Toronto, has its picturesque bloom too.

“For years, we’ve had people stopping alongside the road to take pictures,” said Brad Bogle, who, along with his parents, harvests sunflower seeds for bird food on their farm, Bogle Seeds. In the summer of 2015, the Bogles invited tourists to roam through the fields. They had such a swell time — and it was such a success — the family decided to welcome guests for a visit last month.

What could go wrong?

On July 28, eight days after the first tourists arrived for the season, the Bogles demanded everyone go home after selfie-taking guests ruined the experience for everyone. Amateur photographers came with selfie-sticks and ladders that they clambered atop to get the best shot. Plants were trampled. Sunflower heads were plucked from their stems and used as props. People, too, ventured in between narrow sunflower rows for the perfect cameo.

The horde — which Bogle estimated at 7,000 people that Saturday — left behind garbage and a host of angry neighbors who found the road in front of their homes closed after the police arrived and the festivities were shut down. The Bogles have vowed never to let guests return.

“We are farmers,” Bogle said. “We don’t want to be famous.”

The sunflower fiasco started innocently enough. In June, the Bogles posted a note on their Facebook page saying their field would be open in July for two weeks of viewing. Tickets cost $7.50 per adult. They secured parking in an empty field for about 300 cars.

Bogle said he was not aware at the time a handful of different websites promoted the sunflower viewing as an opportunity not to be missed.

On July 20, the first guests arrived, a manageable throng of about 150 people. “Everyone was respectful,” Bogle said. The family met tourists from New York and Australia and discussed the merits of rotating crops. One guest from Dubai huddled under a tree during a thunderstorm, Bogle said. They invited him inside until the storm passed.

“It was eight days of amazing,” Bogle said.

Then, too, photographs of the cheerful flowers starting popping up on Instagram and Snapchat with the hashtag #bogleseeds. “We aren’t on that,” he said of the social media sites. “We didn’t know anything about that. But we heard it went viral.”

Myles Sexton, a blogger from Toronto, was one of the first people to arrive on July 20, having checked the farm’s website for weeks. “People weren’t getting crazy,” he said in an interview. “Now with Instagram, things do go viral quickly. You still have to respect the beauty.”

Indeed. On July 28, the first car arrived at 6:45 a.m. Two more cars came a half-hour later. Even more showed up after that. The Bogles told everyone to come back at 9 a.m. “My dad and I got a funny feeling that too many people were going to be showing up,” Bogle said. “So we called the police and asked for help.”

By 8:45 a.m., 15 minutes before the farm opened, about 25 cars lined the gravel road leading to the barn. Within an hour, all of the 300 parking spots were filled. “My neighbors started opening up their fields and charging cars to park,” Bogle said. Visitors parked wherever they could: in ditches, along side roads, even stopping on a busy freeway, according to media reports, to walk across lanes of fast-moving traffic to see the farm.

By 2:30 p.m., the fields were overrun and the Bogles could not manage the traffic or crowds. So they agreed, on the advice of the local police, to force everyone to go home.

Bogle called his wife, Audrey Bogle, to tell her the news. “I said, ‘Love, we are shutting this down,'” he said. Audrey Bogle, who was monitoring their Facebook page, was shocked. She had just told a couple to stop by. He panicked.

“I said, ‘Shut it down! Shut it down!'” Brad Bogle recalled. “It was very stressful for all of us. My parents were very upset.”

By then, the police were not only directing traffic, but they also closed the main road. Enterprising sunflower peepers, though, maneuvered their cars along side roads and pulled out their cameras for one last shot.

“They were knocking down sunflowers and taking flower heads with them,” Brad Bogle said. “We went from a week of amazing to that.”

“I’ve described it as a zombie apocalypse,” he added. “There were so many cars. People were walking in and around them. No one would move.”

On the Bogle Seeds website, the family posted a notice saying photo opportunities for the season were closed. Elaine Furtado, whose husband took a selfie of the couple when they visited on July 21, said she was sad to see the visits end. “It’s a magical place,” she said. “If everyone respected it, then everyone could visit.”

A few stragglers have showed up, Brad Bogle said, but not like last weekend. “I am so thankful and shocked no one got hurt,” he said. Despite the pandemonium, some guests tried to help. “One random guy started picking up garbage to keep the farm clean,” he said.

Mostly, though, he is glad his fields are quiet, except for the buzz of industrious bees. “I’m a farmer,” he said. “I just want to be in the dirt.”

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