Raising money for Nationale Vereniging de Zonnebloem with a sunflower. It couldn’t be more logical. Describing the connection between the Sunsation Sunflower and De Zonnebloem (zonnebloem being Dutch for sunflower), Nico Grootendorst, director of breeder Evanthia Seeds & Plants, says: “I never dreamt that this partnership would take off the way it has!”

It suddenly dawns on Nico Grootendorst just how big the De Zonnebloem organisation is. It’s May 2019, and in the presence of around 300 volunteers from local branches of the association in the Bollenstreek region, he is watching De Zonnebloem ambassador Anita Witzier name “his” new sunflower. But however well the TV presenter performs her role, the director of Evanthia – a supplier of garden and pot plant seed – mainly has eyes for the attendees. There are so many here! And this is just a fraction of all the people involved in De Zonnebloem, it flashes through his mind. “I already knew it was the biggest volunteer organisation in the Netherlands, but it only really dawned on me then. De Zonnebloem is huge.”

Commercial interest and satisfaction

He tan talk about his flowers – a completely different product from the sunflowers you see growing in vast fields in France – for hours. “Those are grown for sunflower oil. We supply seeds for flowers that our growers produce for supermarkets and garden centres. For the garden or in a pot in the home.” To raise awareness of the Sunsation Sunflower, a few years ago he got in touch with De Zonnebloem. “It’s so great to connect with a good cause when you spend your marketing budget! We also have a commercial interest in this – I have to be honest about that – but it also gives us huge satisfaction to be doing something for De Zonnebloem.”

All kinds of local initiatives

De Zonnebloem is doing well out of the partnership. Part of the sales price of plants sold through campaigns in supermarkets or garden centres is donated to local branches or the national association. For example, a campaign at Hoogvliet supermarkets last month raised more than €5,000 through the sale of the same number of sunflowers. Grootendorst: “All kinds of local initiatives are taking place across the country, from Limburg to Friesland. That makes me so happy.”

As a result, Grootendorst now feels much more drawn to De Zonnebloem than before. “I was already aware of the organisation, of course; the first thing that came to mind was always the ship that takes people on holiday. But now I realise how active local branches can be. The activities they organise are really important for people with disabilities. Campaigns with our sunflowers can raise a couple of thousand euros for a branch in no time. They can do great things with that.”

Lot of reactions

The partnership brings in a lot of reactions for the director. From those directly involved, of course, but also from people like the former classmate who volunteers with De Zonnebloem and wanted to express her appreciation. “They come from all over. That makes me feel happy. I could never have imagined this before. The partnership is taking off in a way I hadn’t expected. Sometimes things just happen along the way.”

For now, Grootendorst is taking things as they come, although he does ask Zonnebloem branches to plan campaigns in good time. “If a lot of branches start embracing this and partner with local supermarkets or garden centres, it’s helpful for us to get plenty of advance notice. Then we can respond appropriately and make sure we supply enough sunflowers.”