Mid north coast farmers turn sunflowers into fundraising gold for staff on COVID frontline

When Jenny and Rob Mitchison’s sunflower crop started blooming, they saw an opportunity to share the joy their “happy crop” gives them. 

Key points:

  • Hundreds of people attended Jenny and Rob Mitchison’s pick-your-own sunflowers day
  • They raised more than $2,000 for their local hospital’s intensive care unit
  • The couple’s daughter is an ICU nurse, which prompted the farmers to want to help

As parents of a registered nurse, the farmers know all too well the strain COVID-19 is putting on frontline workers.

“They’ve been through amazing times fighting COVID-19 and helping COVID patients,” Ms Mitchison said.

“They’re picking up extra shifts all the time.”

The pair run a bean and pea farm at Hillview on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, but for the past few years have added a sunflower crop to the mix.

“The flowers just took off this year, so we thought let’s hold a pick-your-own and donate the money raised to help our local [hospital],” Ms Mitchison said.

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The couple’s daughter Jessica Maddox works in the intensive care unit at Manning Base Hospital in Taree.

Like many other regional health centres, the hospital has been hit hard by staffing shortages, putting strain on workers during an already difficult time. 

“I really couldn’t think of a better cause,” Ms Mitchison said. 

Bean farmers Jenny and Rob Mitchison have been growing sunflowers for the past three years.(ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

The ‘happy crop’

Ms Mitchison said they first planted the sunflowers for her niece’s wedding a few years ago.

“We had the full crop looking beautiful and ready to go but then the [2019] bushfires hit, so we didn’t have the wedding, but the flowers remained,” she said.

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Mr Mitchison grew up on the property and lost his childhood home during the fires, less than 100 metres away from his home now.

“You can see where the house used to sit, next to a half-burnt tree just down the driveway,” Mr Mitchison said.

“It’s a bummer, but the fire brigade was amazing, I didn’t think we’d still have our home.”

Thousands of sunflowers cover a portion of the property. The ‘happy crop’ in full bloom.(ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

The couple decided to sell the sunflowers and donate the money they raised to their local fire brigade.

“Since then, I’ve just loved having them. I call it my happy crop,” Ms Mitchison said.

“We now plant them every year.”

Money raised to help hospital

Daughter Jessica Maddox said she didn’t expect the hundreds of visitors that came to pick sunflowers.

“It’s been such a great response from the community, which is awesome,” she said.

Grandparents and their grandkids hold bunch of flowers smiling in front of sunflower crop. Several local families took their children and grandchildren along.(ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

More than $2,000 was raised, which will be donated to the hospital’s intensive care unit where Ms Maddox works.

She said the funds would most likely go to increasing comfort for COVID patients in ICU. 

“It’s the little things, like fans for the patients who get quite hot and claustrophobic wearing the big masks, she said.

“Things that the government doesn’t really cover … That we want to be able to provide.”

Two young girls hold bunches of sunflowers. Children went into the thick of the crop to get the best flowers.(ABC Rural: Keely Johnson)

Ms Maddox said staff appreciated the financial support. 

“A lot of other hospitals, especially Sydney hospitals get wealthy families that live in Sydney and donate to their local hospital often,” she said.

“We get [donations] sometimes but definitely not as much and it really makes a difference.”

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