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Illinois farm raises funds for local food bank with sunflower maze

Sophia Hortin, farm manager at Clearview Farm, and Jim Goss, vice president of farms at The Atkins Group, run the day-to-day operations at the educational and regenerative ag farm in northwest Champaign. Two recent projects include the popular sunflower maze, where visitors can also donate to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, and an Illinois-shaped pollinator garden that’s expected to be completed in the fall. (Photo by Tammie Sloup)



At Clearview Farm’s sunflower maze, visitors can partake in a sunflower photo contest, scavenger hunt or relax with some yoga.

They can also help fight food insecurity.

The Champaign farm is partnering with the Eastern Illinois Foodbank by collecting monetary and nonperishable food donations at the entrance to its popular 14-acre maze.

“This is our third year with a sunflower maze and we tried to think about what’s another way we could support the community, and that was to partner with our local food bank,” said Farm Manager Sophia Hortin, adding they also incorporated the food bank’s logo into the maze’s design.

The Clearview Farm sunflower maze used the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s logo of a shopping cart with a heart in the center in its maze design. Visitors can donate money or nonperishable food items to the food bank when they visit the maze in northwest Champaign. (Photo by Scott Anderson)

The sunflowers were expected to be at 100% bloom the first weekend in August. Visitors have about a week after full bloom to see the sunflowers before they begin to wilt.

While 2021 brought perfect weather for the sunflowers, which grew to about 7 feet, the drought this growing season appears to have affected their height, shortening the flowers by a foot or more.

And not far from the golden field is another project — a 5,500-square-foot pollinator garden to be shaped like the state of Illinois, complete with the major rivers and featuring nearly 1,000 plants. The garden is expected to be planted in September by volunteers for both the public and pollinators to enjoy for years to come.

Jim Goss, vice president of farms for The Atkins Group, which owns Clearview Farm, said the idea for the pollinator garden came to him from the Champaign County Farm Bureau, and is modeled off the pollinator garden in Kane County.

“And we’re just crazy enough to try to pull it off,” Goss said, laughing. “We’re so excited. We think the community, from our early impressions, is really going to be behind this.

“It’s a rain garden, technically, that’s got a bunch of pollinator plants that are native to Illinois. The main feature is actually the rivers of Illinois. The rivers are a gravel bed that carry the water basically from what we would call northern Illinois … and end up in southern Illinois.”

Clearview Farm also partnered with the Mahomet-Seymour FFA Chapter, which potted the plants and have been growing them all summer in its greenhouse.

The sunflower field and pollinator garden are just two pieces of the 140-acre educational and regenerative ag farm, which opened to the public in 2021. A winding road through the farm allows visitors and group tours to take in fields of different crops with educational signage. This year’s crops include sunflowers, sweet corn, wheat, field corn and soybeans, and a variety of cover crops.

“We put this all together as a project for community engagement and agriculture education,” Goss said.

The original Clearview Farm farmstead included a farmhouse, farmland, a large corn crib and a large white barn that boasted the Clearview name. The property was home to farmers Don and Lois Wood who raised corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs.

Dr. Thomas Lahners purchased the farm in 1946 and hired Stanley Wood as the tenant farmer. Lahners later donated the farm to Milliken University, and Wood’s son, Don, moved into the home in 1977 to carry on the Wood/Clearview farm tradition. The Atkins Group purchased Clearview Farm in December 1997, and in 2003, the Wood family moved north to their family farm. Clearview Farm has been farmed in a continuous rotation of corn and soybeans ever since.

The farm as it’s utilized today was an idea spurred by the pandemic in 2020, and started with a field of sunflowers, Goss said. A field was planted as a transition crop on StoneCreek Golf Course the prior summer and the sunflowers were such a hit, The Atkins Group derived the plan for a regenerative agriculture and community engagement farm.

Goss and Hortin added the site also is a testing ground for non-native crops.

Hortin, who graduated from the University of Illinois in May with a degree in farm management, said she especially enjoys giving tours to school children. Goss and Hortin also hosted a group of farmers from Germany, and welcome more tour requests.

For more information about Clearview Farm, visit or its Facebook page.

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit

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