One North Fork business has spent the last month telling its customers to get lost – in the area’s first sunflower maze. North Fork Potato Chips, which opened its maze earlier this month on the corner of Route 48 and Cox Lane in Cutchogue, created the floral labyrinth to help promote the sunflower oil they use in their kettle-cooked chips.
Sitting on nearly 3-acres, the field is home to eight varieties of ornamental sunflowers, including the burgundy-petaled Moulin Rouge, which were planted to look like the shape of the company’s logo when viewed from above.
“People really enjoy it. Kids are running through it, and adults say it’s really relaxing,” said Cheryl Sidor, who works the onsite sunflower and potato chip stand with her mother, Carol. “It’s challenging enough, without being stressful. We haven’t had to retrieve anyone yet.”
Sunflowers are heliotropic, which means the heads will slowly turn to face the sun as it moves across the sky, and they tend to droop on cloudy days. “It’s all about the sun, and they have a lot of attitude,” Cheryl Sidor said. “They’re very happy about this hot weather.”
“I like to think of us as farmers who make potato chips and sunflower mazes,” said Carol Sidor, who owns North Fork Potato Chips with her husband, Martin. The Sidor family has been farming Long Island potatoes on the same farm for the last 100 years, and turning them into chips for the last eight. “We actually live in the house and on the farm that his grandparents bought in 1910,” she said. “We’re still doing what the original farmers started.”
The Sidors started North Fork Potato Chips in 2004, in an effort to supplement the farm’s income. “We’ve dedicated ourselves to using the sunflower oil for our potato chips,” Carol Sidor said. “We think it’s great. It’s healthy, and it doesn’t detract from the potato taste in the chips.” Two years ago, however, a national shortage drove the prices up, so they decided to experiment with growing their own sunflowers to produce oil.
“My husband said, ‘The farmers out west can grow sunflowers, and I have farmland, so why can’t I do it?’,” Carol Sidor said. They grew two fields last year to try it out. “So many people had complimented us and stopped to take pictures,” she said. “It really was a pretty sight, coming up on a whole field of sunflowers like that.”
But then disaster struck – both fields were completely wiped out by Hurricane Irene. “We weren’t able to use anything. Not even the birds wanted any of the seeds in there.”
This past winter, Martin Sidor happened upon an article in a farming magazine about a sunflower maze in New Jersey, and he decided to try growing them again. This time, however, the Sidors planted one field for sunflower oil, and turned the other into the maze. “He’s going to try harvesting the maze to see what he can get for bird seed,” she said. “That might be a whole new crop for us.”
After researching the project, the Sidors contacted a Utah based company called MAiZE, which specializes in creating corn mazes. “They send you a lot of support information,” Carol Sidor said. “It’s all dedicated to corn mazes, but you can kind of take from it and use it for sunflowers.”
Having never done anything like this before, the Sidors weren’t sure what to expect. “We don’t know how successful it is yet, so we don’t want to put that much money into things we won’t use ever again,” Carol Sidor said.
The maze opens everyday at 10 a.m., weather permitting. “Every time it rains, we lose another day. I’ve never wanted sunshine like I have this year,” Cheryl Sidor said.
The Sidors expect the maze to stay open until Labor Day. “It depends on if a storm comes,” said Carol Sidor. “We’ve had some rain and there’s been some roughing up of the flowers, so if it doesn’t get too windy, I think the they will hold out.”
Admission to the maze is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 4 to 12. Kids under 3 are free.