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Field of northern Alberta sunflowers grows into seed money for Ukrainian refugees

The sunflower field at Kendal Farms in the County of Grande Prairie in September 2022.  (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)
The sunflower field at Kendal Farms in the County of Grande Prairie in September 2022. (Trevor Wilson/CBC - image credit)

Last year, a farm family in northwestern Alberta planted a mass of sunflowers in a field alongside a busy bypass. It was a cheery display aimed at growing support for Ukrainians affected by the war.

Ken and Sherry Drysdale, who operate Kendal Farms in the County of Grande Prairie, were recognized as the municipality's family farm of the year partly because of their s field of sunflowers — Ukraine's national flower and a symbol of peace.

"We thought it would draw attention, just to keep people thinking about them while the war's going on," said Ken Drysdale.

Luke Ettinger/CBC
Luke Ettinger/CBC

The field also turned into a fundraiser for a local effort to help Ukrainian refugees, raising about $30,000 in seed money — birdseed, in fact — when the flowers were harvested and the seeds cleaned and sold.

All the funds went to Rotary Club of Grande Prairie, which established its Ukrainian Relief Committee in 2022 to welcome refugees to the community, he said.

More support needed 

Joel Park, who chairs the committee, said the proceeds from selling almost 16,000 kilograms of seeds are part of over $200,000 that has been raised by governments, companies and individuals.

"But we actually need more money," he said.

The group also needs more billet families to host Ukrainian refugees while they search for an apartment, as well as more employment opportunities that don't require much English to help the refugees get on their feet.

Luke Ettinger/CBC
Luke Ettinger/CBC

Anzhela Mutyl arrived in Grande Prairie with her husband Sergii and their three children in March. After the war broke out, the family fled Ukraine for Poland where they stayed while waiting for Canadian visas.

"We had to leave as soon as possible," Anzhela said with the help of a digital translator.

Upon arriving in Grande Prairie, about 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, the fund helped her family pay for a hotel while they sought a permanent home in the city.

"Thank you very much," Anzhela said in response to the help her family received.

Yellow and blue

Back at the Drysdale farm, plans are underway to replant the sunflower field to keep supporting the Ukraine Relief Fund.

This time, added Ken Drysdale, they've also ordered some lupines to add some splashes of blue.

"So if the colours happen to happen at the right time, it'll almost look like the flag of Ukraine," Ken said.

The flag hits close to home for his wife Sherry, who has Ukrainian ancestry.

"It brings so much joy to people driving by, stopping in."