By Rebecca Greaves

Abbe Hoare is known as the sunflower lady, and she doesn’t mind the moniker. The Mangamaire Sunflower Field, established by farmer, photographer and mum, turned sunflower entrepreneur extraordinaire, Abbe, is turning heads for all the right reasons. She and her partner Emile de Greeuw, and their two girls Florence, 8, and Maeve, 2, have a 90-hectare farm at Mangamaire, just south of Pahiatua. Their ultimate dream is to one day buy a bigger farm that will sustain their family, but for now, they’re constantly looking for ways to diversify their operation to make this happen. Emile has a fencing contracting business, Omata Fencing, which means Abbe is in charge of the day-to-day running of the farm. She grew up on a sheep and beef farm, but trained as a radiographer initially and had no farming experience. The challenge is one she is relishing.

They have a flock of 320 ewes, buying in trade lambs and also their lamb replacements and taking them through, as well as 100 trade cattle.

“Three years ago, we bought this, there’s two separate blocks and we’ve got about 90ha and they were bare, there was no house. We’ve built a shed house, we thought we’d quickly build something and then build an actual house. It took so long and was so expensive that we’re in the shed for the foreseeable future, and that’s fine. “As I’m sure people are aware, 90ha doesn’t make much money, so we’re always on the lookout for ways to try and diversify our farm income. I’m a big believer in diversifying onfarm and I think that every farm has the opportunity to do something outside the box.”

It was when renting a nearby cottage while building the shed, and Abbe was at home with new born Maeve, that she first dreamed up the sunflower field idea.

“As you do, you spend a lot of time sitting on the couch thinking, and I just needed something that was fun and creative to think about, and that was where the idea for the sunflower field came from.

“I wanted something I could integrate my photography with and I knew that there was this beautiful backdrop, great flat paddock where the sun was setting, it was all perfectly orchestrated from a planting perspective.”

Abbe hit on the idea of planting a sunflower field on their farm, initially as a way to mitigate a threat to their farming business and turn it into an opportunity instead. With the farm on either side of a busy road, which she regularly needs to move stock across, the sunflowers seemed a novel way to slow traffic.

Ironically, the sunflower field didn’t achieve her objective of slowing the traffic, as it was so popular, she actually increased the traffic on the road exponentially to the point it almost had the opposite effect.

Planting a cut variety – sowing every one of the 47,000 sunflowers herself – meant she was able to sell cut flowers too.

Over just 12 days of being open in the summer of 2022 Abbe was blown away by the number of visitors from the city, and an extra bonus of the field was the opportunity to share their farm and life with an urban audience. They had 4000 people through the gates over that time, and Abbe says, financially, it was a worthwhile exercise. “We had this perfect storm of Covid, everything was closed, but we tried to remain open as we were outside and it was safe. So many people came from Wellington. I was amazed by how many people are obsessed with sunflowers.”

Abbe has big plans to make the sunflower field even bigger and brighter this year, with a picnic concept in the pipeline.

“I’m allowed to have a bigger part of the farm this year, which is great. I think we need to keep it simple, and being a one-person management team, I need to be careful about how much I do. We are going with a picnic idea and I really want to have people come to the field because they think they’re coming for the sunflowers, but try and keep them for the farm. So many people came who had never set foot on a farm before, which blew my mind.”

  • Listen to Abbe’s episode of From the Ground Up to hear more about the sunflower field, how she marketed her idea and what she learned along the way.