Sunflowers are happy flowers. A smile atop a tall stem. Andy and Jennifer Graycheck know this and much more about the value of sunflowers.
Jennifer Desormeaux Graycheck grew up on Lee Station Road, playing near Bayou Petite Anse in the mud that she now tills on her farm with her husband and two children, Liam and Lorelei, ages 7 and 4. She met Andy Graycheck while studying at the University of Georgia. With her degree in fine arts and Andy’s in landscape architecture, together they have made beauty from a pile of dirt.
Jennifer is currently co-chair of the art department at ESA, and Andy works as an independent landscape architect. Jennifer’s mother and grandmother live in houses on lots adjacent to Jennifer and Andy. “When this property came up for sale, I knew it was perfect for Jennifer and Andy,” recalled Linda Dautreuil, Jennifer’s mother.
“When I walked the property, I had tears in my eyes,” said Jennifer. She remembers playing with the neighbors’ children when she visited her grandparents. “We ran around this whole space.”
Andy described the road that went from the front to the back of the property. It was lower than the two sides and held water. Andy took a whole year to dig retention ponds and build the land up for planting. In the winter, he planted crimson clover, which was used as a cover crop to keep the soil in place. He then had the idea to plant sunflowers. It’s another style of regenerative agriculture. “It felt right,” he said. “The land had a soul now.”
When I drove up to the sunflower farm, Jennifer greeted me along with her mother, grandmother and daughter: four generations of strong women who don’t mind the heat. Andy admitted that he was worried when the pandemic hit, but not Jennifer. She knew just what to do. “Let’s sell sunflowers!”
The whole family became involved in the sunflower project. The kids helped Jennifer cut the flowers in the morning, package them in bunches wrapped in brown paper, and deliver to 10-12 homes each day. “We are teaching math! Liam is making charts to figure out how much he has to sell to get what he wants.”
The flowers became a magical way for the Graychecks to spread happiness and joy during this difficult time. Liam told Jennifer, “It’s really cool to see that my friends have the flowers we’ve grown in their houses.” Jennifer advertised solely through Facebook and word-of-mouth. While the pick-your-own-sunflower event is not happening again, the family hopes to plant more flowers and possibly have a pumpkin patch in the fall.
When asked why they live here, almost in unison, Jennifer and Andy said, “This is our dream come true!” They have found a way to be with family, to nurture their own family, and to take care of others with a smile from a flower.
You can contact Jennifer and Andy through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/petiteansefarm/.
MARGARET SIMON is an elementary teacher of gifted students in Iberia Parish. She writes a blog regularly at reflectionsontheteche.com.