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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Sunflowers in the Spotlight


The Gilliam Sunflower Festival will feature live music, food trucks and local arts and crafts, including a children’s section.

Annual celebration in Gilliam invites you to enjoy a day in the country

The 25th annual Sunflower Festival blossoms on Saturday, June 15, in and around Gilliam, La., in the northwest corner of the state. The event will give cityslickers and country folk a chance to get together to celebrate Louisiana, hot weather, arts and crafts, and the eponymous helianthus that make this celebration unique.

Helianthus is a flower genus of about 70 species of annual and perennial flowering plants in the daisy family Asteraceae, commonly known as sunflowers. It comes from the Greek words for sun and flower, naturally enough. Except for three South American species, helianthus is native to North America and Central America. What is considered the common sunflower is the best-known variety. This and other species, notably Jerusalem artichoke, are cultivated in temperate and some tropical regions as food crops for humans, cattle, poultry and ornamental plants. The species H. annuus typically grows in summer and early fall, with the peak growth season being midsummer, just when the folks in Gilliam gear up for their annual shindig.

Margaret John, board member and publicity chair of the Red River Crossroads Historical and Cultural Association, the group behind the annual event, says the day’s concept is simple.

“It’s a fun, free day. It’s good for the kids, and it’s good for the parents, it’s very laidback and country. City life is so fast, and a lot of people don’t really know about the country, and we wanted to promote our part of the country.”

Gilliam’s Sunflower Trail boasts several patches of the summertime blossoms.

The Red River Crossroads Historical and Cultural Association was founded in 1994 to call attention to and preserve the history and traditions of north Caddo Parish and the historic locations along LA Hwy. 3049.

The Red River Crossroads Historical Association Museum was developed in 1998 and is located inside the Gilliam Branch of the Shreve Memorial Library. To learn more about the Sunflower Trail, log onto the group’s Facebook page (Sunflower Festival & Trail). Currently, the event includes a “new” exhibit of vintage tractors that have plied their trade in the local fields over the years.

Diane Long has produced a 19-by-53-foot harvest mural. The annual tradition of sunflower T-shirts will be for sale at the Village Hall. John said that’s also an excellent place to enjoy some air conditioning to escape the humidity.

There will be arts and crafts on sale produced by local artists, including a children’s section. Local musical groups will supply the background.

Of course, the stars of the show are the sunflowers, and if the weather cooperates, they’re in their glory along Hwy. 3049 and in Gilliam. According to the Association, other not-to-miss spots are Dixiemaze Farms, 9596 Sentell Road in Dixie; Ryan’s Farms in Dixie; The Veterans Memorial in Belcher; Lynn Plantation Commissary at 11580 Hwy. 3049; and the Crossroads Museum in Gilliam.

Photographers and artists of all ages and experience are invited to submit their work to the Sunflower Photo/Art Contest. The competition has been underway for a while and ends on Aug. 2. The winning work will receive a $200 award and be featured on the 2025 Sunflower Festival T-shirt. One entry per artist. All work must be original, and entry forms and rules are available at www.redrivercrossroadshistorical.org.

This year’s T-shirt features the work of Kristi Cavett Jones, who works in oils, watercolors, pen and ink, and acrylic media.

According to her information sheet, her influences are primarily from Louisiana. She said she loves the farmland of northwest Caddo Parish.

And what would a festival be without food? John said there will be ample opportunity to slake a thirst and feed a hunger from several local vendors. The featured vendors include Main Street Restaurant, James Country Store Restaurant, and D&I Café and Deli in Belcher.

The directions are fairly simple if you’re into exploring the sunflower trail. From downtown Shreveport, drive north on Clyde Fant Memorial Parkway. Just past the casinos, the parkway veers left into Grimmett Drive and continues north. You take Grimmett until you turn right onto LA Hwy. 3049, the Dixie Shreveport Road.

When you get to the Old Dixie Gin and Sentell Road, you can turn right and loop around the levee to take in the scenery. The route circles back to Hwy. 3049 at the Cornerstone Baptist Church, just north of Dixie, La. You’ll be treated to several sunflower varieties along this route and native wildflowers.

Margaret John said folks can cut as many blooms as they like to take home for starting their sunflower displays.

During the event, there will be instructions on caring for and growing your sunflower garden.

Live music, including Q Major the violinist, is a feature of the Sunflower Festival.

All the money raised during the event goes to help fund community services in the northwest Caddo Parish area. John said it’s what they volunteer to do for the community: to help preserve the parish history and let the public know what a rich heritage there is in those fertile fields. People come from all around to see the blooms and tour the historic sites, she said. They even have had visitors from as far away as Germany come to enjoy the blossoms.

She encourages anyone who’s interested to check the Facebook site for updates and additions to the day’s events.

For more information, you can also call 318-287-3397. Anyone can join the association; sign-up forms are available on the website.

A lady named Karen Logan founded the association. Unfortunately, she passed away a couple of years ago. Still, the group is determined to keep the tradition alive for her memory and generations of sunflowers to come. And people do enjoy the flowers; John said she’s seen plenty of couples taking pictures out there and even heard of some engagements settled amidst the blooms.

As founder Karen Logan might say, come on out Saturday, June 15, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and enjoy a day in the country.


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