Nestled between the neighborhoods and lake houses sits a quiet field in north Forsyth bathed in the hot sun, buzzing bees and thousands of vibrant yellow sunflowers.
Henderson’s Lakeside Farm, established in the 1930s, recently opened its sunflower field on Pilgrim Mill Road to the public for pictures and U-pick opportunities.
Jamie Watkins, who was raised on the farm, said the family has seen a “really amazing turn-out” since opening July 23.
According to Molly Henderson, Jamie’s sister-in-law, the Henderson siblings and their spouses began brainstorming for a potential agritourism venture to open the 30-plus acre farm to Forsyth County residents.
Molly said the six adults got together every other week to develop an idea, hammer out the logistics and begin planting seeds.
“The brainstorming sessions were a ton of fun,” Molly said. “[Farming] allows me to be creative in ways that my corporate job doesn’t.”
Molly’s husband, Robbie Henderson, began planting the sunflower seeds at the end of May. He said sunflowers can be planted anytime the soil is over 70 degrees with no threat of frost.
“We just plowed it good, smoothed it up, said a prayer and it was done,” Robbie said.
Robbie said he had a little trouble the first time he planted the sunflowers.
His mother, Kathy Henderson, joked that her son went through four different planters to find the equipment he liked best to begin planting seeds.
“He just had to have the perfect planter,” she said.
“Yeah, and then it still didn’t work right,” Robbie replied.
Robbie said he ended up borrowing a planter from the Holtzclaw family who live down the road, but still ended up planting too many sunflower seeds.
He said you want “to have some room between the stalks when you plant them,” but the current field houses bright yellow flowers that are “on top of each other.”
“Turns out it’s great for pictures, though,” Robbie said.
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History of the property
While the sunflower patch is a new venture for the Henderson family, the farm has been a part of Forsyth County’s history for “probably over 200 years.”
Jamie and Robbie’s father, Jerry Henderson said his children’s great-grandmother was a Tate, and they T owned the property before the Henderson’s. When Mr. Tate passed away, Jerry’s grandfather bought it. That was about 90 years ago.
“It’s been in the family on both sides for over 200 years,” Jerry said. “It was always a farm from day one.”
Kathleen Heard, Jerry’s mother, moved onto the property in the 1930s when she was 4 years old.
He recalls hearing stories of his father sleeping on the fender of the family’s truck before the farmer’s market would open in Atlanta. They were usually there to sell almost “everything you could think of,” Jerry said.
Kathleen is now 99 years old and still takes care of her family.
“I mean, she cooks, she watches over the farm still,” Jamie said.
In order to preserve the farmland for generations to come, Robbie and Jerry went before the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners in November to request a rezoning and a conditional-use permit for the purpose of agritourism.
At the meeting, Jerry said his grandfather bought 600 acres, but once Lake Lanier was built, they were left with just over 30 acres.
“If you had been there in 1931, you would have seen my dad and his brothers and sister picking cotton,” Jerry told commissioners. “My grandfather bought that [property], and it was a cotton farm at that time.”
Jerry said his grandparents and their children “could pick a whole lot of cotton.” Kathleen recalled picking the white, fluffy lint from bolls close to where her grandchildren live now.
According to Jodi Toledo, Robbie and Jamie’s sister, Kathleen “has some [Native American] blood,” specifically descended from the Cherokee Nation that used to live between the Bald Ridge and Young Deer creeks.
Jodi said it was possible that their ancestors had occupied the land for more than 200 years.
“Our family has actually been here probably since the seventeenth century,” she said. “We’ve been here a heck of a long time.”
Growing up on the farm, Jodi said she can remember loading hay bales with her siblings, keeping cows on the land and being around “just so many cousins.”
With the approval of the conditional-use permit back in November, Jodi said she is looking forward to seeing the family and Henderson’s Lakeside Farm grow and continue to prosper on the same land she has known and loved.
“It feels very, very good,” Jodi said. “Not many people are blessed like this.”
“And admittedly sometimes because I have always lived here, it’s not that you take it for granted because you never take it for granted, but you stop for a second and think, ‘This is pretty darn amazing,’” Jodi said. “I’m raising my son on the same property I grew up on.”
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Future of the farm
For now, Jamie said the Henderson family will continue to grow the business and make it a “happy place.”
“We want to create a place where families want to come and enjoy the farm,” Jamie said.
Jodi’s husband, Raul Toldeo, said the sunflower patch and the farm have created happiness for residents on the Pilgrim Mill Road peninsula because they “see some nature” every day.
“We had no idea we’d have this much activity and traffic here when we started,” Jamie said. “We’re so thankful.”
Both Jamie and Molly said they’re looking forward to meeting new people at the farm, hosting folks for pumpkin picking in the fall and Christmas trees in the winter.
“The people [who stop by] have been so amazing,” Molly said. “We can’t wait to keep working together to create something that people will really enjoy.”
Henderson’s Lakeside Farm is at 3055 Pilgrim Mill Road. The sunflower patch is open every day until dark.
Visit www.hendersonslakesidefarm.com for more information.