Tree farm offers more than trees

Staff reporter

Vehicles enter the driveway, some pulling trailers to take home their treasured purchases.

Children, bundled up in winter gear, eagerly run across the tree lot to point out the tree they like best.

After the tree is carefully selected, it is securely fastened to the roof of the van or the bed of the truck for the trek home.

The memory is engraved forever of the day the family went to Pine Creek Farm to buy the family Christmas tree.

It's been a family business for nearly 30 years. And it was the tradition for many families to come to buy their Christmas trees.

And now the traditions continue.

People still come to Pine Creek Farm every year to buy their Christmas trees.

For Lloyd and Marlene Schroeder of rural Goessel, their Christmas tree farm was a sense of pride and joy.

It began in 1970 when the farm couple planted 1,000 scotch pine trees. The couple continued its full-fledged farming operation and managed to keep up with selling 800-1,000 trees each year to families and individuals in the area.

Marlene Schroeder died last year and Lloyd has moved from the family farm to town. But the family tradition lives on in the couple's daughter, Ardie Goering and son-in-law, Wynn.

"We're buying the farm and plan to keep the tree operation going," Ardie said.

This is the first year that the younger couple is giving it a try. With Lloyd's blessings and assistance, Ardie and Wynn opened for business Nov. 20 and have been keeping busy ever since.

The Christmas tree growing business is about as unpredictable as farming where seedlings are planted in April with the hopes of producing six-foot trees in seven years. Droughts can reduce the number of trees as can other elements of nature.

"There were a few dry springs where not all of the trees made it," Ardie said. Those trees were replaced with seedlings but it will take some time before they are ready to be sold.

It's also an unpredictable retail business, not knowing the number or size of trees customers will be purchasing.

Customers can go to the farm, walk through three different tree lots and have the pleasure of cutting down their own Christmas trees.

"Families love being able to do that," Ardie said.

She continued that most people enjoy coming to the farm and spending time.

"The farm experience has become less common with family farming operations diminishing," Ardie said. "Coming out here gives families the opportunity to spend time together on a farm."

In addition to the 300-400 trees that can be cut in fields, 140 other trees were shipped to the farm to support the existing inventory and accommodate customers.

Frasier firs, Austrian pine, and others with the locally-grown scotch pine are available. Heights vary from three and one-half feet to eight feet with prices beginning at $20.

"We try to have a tree for every budget," Ardie said.

Some trees are flocked or sprayed with a white substance that resembles snow.

"It is a beautiful tree," Ardie said, as she pointed out the tree. She added that some with allergies to Christmas trees find that flocked trees tend to lessen allergy symptoms.

Is there a market for real trees?

"About 25 percent of people buy real trees," Ardie said. Fifty percent buy artificial trees and the other 25 percent don't buy any.

Regardless, there are those who wouldn't have anything other than a real tree since there is no substitute for the aroma in a house of a freshly cut Christmas tree.

Ardie also makes and sells wreaths made from the fresh Christmas trees. Bags of tree branches are available for customers who want to make their own holiday arrangements.

A Christmas shop sells old-fashioned, traditional items. Area crafters and vendors of natural products are featured in the shop that includes soaps, peppernuts, maple syrup, hand-pieced tree skirts, and ornaments.

Though the retail business is short-lived, with the last day of business Dec. 22, the work goes on all year.

"I used to help my parents when I was in college," Ardie said, "and really enjoyed it.

"It's a wonderful sight to see a mini-van driving away with a Christmas tree strapped to its roof."

The tradition of families going to fields and cutting down their own Christmas trees lives on at Pine Creek Farm.

Pine Creek Christmas Tree Farm is located one mile west and two miles south of Goessel. Their hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Sunday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.