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Farming sunflowers in the US

Making It Grow Radio Minute
SC Public Radio

Sunflowers, native to North America, were taken to Spain by early explorers. On Peter the Great’s visit to the Netherlands, he became fascinated by sunflowers and took seeds home to Russia. Initially they were grown just for flowers, but soon, the Russians, too, were extracting the delicious oil. Sunflower production boomed, and the last figures report that 15 million metric tons were grown. Meanwhile, the United States had never gotten excited about sunflowers as a crop. It wasn’t until Russian Mennonites came to the northern parts of the US and Canada in the late nineteenth century that sunflowers became a crop of interest again. As Americans became more interested in having healthy fats in their diet, Frito Lays switched to sunflower oil for its products. Now Kansas, like Ukraine, has adopted the sunflower as its official blossom.

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Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.