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Christmas tree farm in Chatham-Kent making 'sunny memories' in July

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The owners of a small Christmas tree farm in Chatham-Kent are welcoming the public to visit their field of 20,000 sunflowers as they continue fundraising for the local Alzheimer Society.

It's the fourth annual "Making Sunny Memories" fundraiser where people pay $5 per vehicle to take pictures and roam the field, with all proceeds going towards the day program at the Alzheimer Society of Chatham-Kent.

Sunflowers are also available to pick for a dollar per stem.

"Everybody seems to enjoy the sunflowers," said co-owner Gail Whitney along with her husband Matthew.

"Somebody from Spain, somebody from the UK, somebody from BC. I'm sure they're here visiting family, but they come out and they all say they really enjoy it."

The couple said they planted a special variety of donated sunflower seeds that ensured an early bloom, hoping the sea of yellow entices people to check things out while they can, while also raising some money.

"We enjoy doing it and it makes people happy," Gail explained. "We hear a lot of stories about parents who have Alzheimer's and this brings back memories for them."

The Whitney's said they've raised about $10,000 since their efforts began, which also includes proceeds from special Christmas ornament sales that were inspired by Gail's late father.

"The need isn't going away, that's for sure," Matthew said. "I mean, the Alzheimer Society appreciates the funds we provide and their day program is more and more in demand and as long as we can be effective at raising funds through doing this, we'll continue to do it."

"It fills our hearts too!" Gail added.

"We're seeing an increase in referrals every year and that's very telling of the increase in cases of dementia," said Joel Emery with the Alzheimer Society of Chatham Kent.

Emery told CTV News that officials fear dementia is becoming as prevalent as cancer, but isn't as widely discussed due to the stigma that still surrounds it.

"Dementia affects a person's behavior and personality in different ways," Emery said. "People with dementia can still live a very full life and that's why we're here to help them along their journey."

He continued, "Ontario will have a 202 per cent dementia increase between 2020 and 2050. So Ontario is going to have the most new cases out of any province by the year 2050. So that's why when it comes to Alzheimer societies, that's why we're here. We're here to help not only who we're helping now, but preparing ourselves for the future because we know there's going to be more cases of dementia and so more referrals."

Emery added, "When people say that it takes a village to raise a child, well it also takes a village to raise awareness and to raise funds so that we're better prepared for this increase that is coming over the next few decades."

The Puddleford Tree Farm is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 22896 Scane Road near Kent Bridge. 

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