South Jersey Farm reopens sunflower sanctuary social-distance style

SWEDESBORO, N.J. -- Growing up on his grandparents' farm, Keith Dalton always dreamed of owning it one day. In 2012, the possibility started cropping up.

Now renowned for its tulip and sunflower picking, "Dalton Farms" had its traditions uprooted by COVID-19.

Keith recalls planting roughly one million tulips late last year in preparation for a spring bloom.

"As you and everybody else now knows, the world changed," he said after the COVID-19 pandemic put his spring tradition in question.

Conveniently, the tulips were laid out in a pattern conducive to creating a drive-through where individuals could remain socially distanced. However, it was a short-lived experiment.

Allegedly violating Governor Phil Murphy's stay-at-home orders, the farm was ordered to cease their drive through in mid-April. Instead, they were permitted to sell tulips curbside.

"In tulip season, we had to do all the picking," said Chris Viereck, who partners his Random Acts of Farmage Agritainment with Dalton Farms. "That's not what was planned,"he said.

While tulip season carried on in a different manner, the farmers were now faced with a new obstacle: planting one million sunflower seeds post-pandemic.

"It's all an investment that you don't ever know whether you're going to get back," Keith Dalton said. "You can't not, because then you know you're going to lose."

Thankfully, their hard work paid off. Following the safety protocols issued by the State of New Jersey, Dalton Farms is now open for in-person sunflower picking into October.

While their wagon rides won't be operating, guests can still enjoy live music and food in addition to the pick-your-own event. Masks are required upon entry and exit, but may be removed outdoors when maintaining adequate social distance.

All guests much pre-purchase tickets for a particular time slot before their arrival by visiting DaltonFarmsNJ.com.

"It's not just the fact that it's a business," Keith Dalton said. "It's seeing the people out here enjoying themselves that makes this worth doing."

Now carrying out his childhood dream, Keith is teaching his own son, Connor, the tricks of the trade.

'When my dad's no longer here, I'm going to make sure that I keep this in the family for much longer," Connor said. "I want to do what he has. Hopefully experiment a little bit more."

To learn more about Dalton Farms, visit their website.

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