Starting the day after Thanksgiving, countless families across the country make it their mission to find that perfect Christmas tree—whether it’s at a u-pick farm, a seasonal lot, in the parking structure of the local hardware store or even online! From the scent to the search, a real Christmas tree makes for an experience (and memories) no artificial tree can replace. Behind each perfect tree is a Christmas tree farmer who spent weeks, months, and even years, cultivating that centerpiece just for you.

We recently spoke with three tree farmers, who also happen to be moms, to hear about their past-time growing and selling trees. From how they got into the Christmas tree biz to their own family’s holiday traditions, find out what it’s really like to work as a tree farmer.

Krista Bartlett from Lake City, Michigan

With six kids who range in age from 2 to 10 years old and a huge family (there are 39 family members at her parents’ house for Christmas), Krista knows what it’s like to be a part of a team. Her family has been in the Christmas tree business as long as she can remember. Her dad was a farmer and her husband has worked on the farm since they got married. Krista told us a few surprising things you might not know about being a Christmas tree farmer and a super cool tradition her family partakes in every season.

Red Tricycle: How did you get into the Christmas tree business?
Krista Bartlett: Starting at age 12 I would prune trees in a hot field all summer long. It was one of the worst jobs you can think of, and our father always thought, “Well, they really will appreciate any job after that.” Once I got older I began to recognize the value in farming and raising a family on a farm. Currently, my five brothers in-law work on the farm too, out of the six sisters, and when the husbands are off at work the ladies get to hang out and the kids get to play together.

RT: What is your favorite memory involving real trees?
KB: We always pick a tree out on Thanksgiving Day—we always did as kids and we still do now. It’s really the only day we have since we are so busy during the season. My dad would load us all up in the truck and would drive around looking for the best one. Bragging rights would go to whoever found the tree first. One of my sisters still swears it was always her. Once we got it home we would decorate with popcorn and cranberries and play the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers Christmas albums.

RT: What are your children’s favorite part of picking out a tree?
KB: The kids all get their own trees in their rooms so they can decorate their own. Usually we have three trees inside, as well as outside trees that they decorate.

RT: What are some of the most surprising things about being a part of the industry?
KB: Tree farming is very family-oriented. I remember going to tree lots to check on customers. My dad would always take two girls for two weeks to check on customers. In terms of today’s reality, farming jobs look very different than a typical 9-5. Some days you may have quite a bit of free time while other days you may have zero. Some weeks you could work 100 hours, especially in the months leading up to the holidays as growers get their trees ready starting in October.

And, growers work hard! A lot of work goes into getting a fresh cut Christmas tree into your home, but to have a fresh tree in your home for the holidays, there just isn’t anything that can compare to that.

RT: What does a typical day look like for your family when it's the holiday season?
KB: Of course, the months leading up to Christmas are very busy. January through February are slower times and we take two weeks off after Christmas. That build up to the big day is a lot of work, but the big vacation time after is the best. Over Christmas, everyone (all 39 of us) go to our parents’ house for three nights and spend the night. Their new house is built on the same spot where our old cabin was. It’s a big Christmas party and sometimes we’re actually more tired when we leave!

RT: Being in the Christmas tree biz and a mom, what is one piece of advice that you've taken to heart and found really helpful?
KB: Strong faith. As the seasons change, you realize everything in life comes in seasons and something new always comes down the road.

 

Lisa Stone from Salem, Oregon

Lisa is no stranger to the agricultural scene. In fact, she’s been in the industry for 22 years since her family is in the fruit business. Lisa talks to us about what her eight-year-old son, Zac, thinks of her job and how her role as a mother shapes her life as a Christmas tree grower.

Red Tricycle: Is there anything that most people would be surprised about your job and the Christmas tree industry?
Lisa Stone: We are a fairly large company and it surprises people how intimate an operation we still are. While family run and operated, some people are surprised to learn we use helicopters (during harvesting) and other modern things, as well as the manual labor like shearing and topping and shaping.

RT: What does your son think of your job? How do you feel about Zac following in your footsteps?
LS: Zac says he wants to be a tree farmer, which I think is awesome and fine, but after college. He and his cousins love harvest, climbing on tree piles and generally, hanging out and being involved in it all. On our property, we have five kids total (Zac + his cousins).

RT: What is your favorite memory involving a real tree? What is Zac’s favorite part of picking out a tree?
LS: Zac gets to pick out his own tree this year. He picks out and cuts it down himself, and brings it home to decorate, which we’re hoping it tops out around 3-4 feet. My brother in-law picks out their family’s tree, which is much larger because they have 20-foot ceilings. Besides picking out our real trees, we always do an advent calendar, lots of crafts, and we love to bake and frost cookies.

RT: Is there anything about your experience as a mom that helps inform—or perhaps, hinders—your job?
LS: It’s always a hard balance of working and just being a mom. Some days I work 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and I want to make sure I am still spending quality time with Zac, and making sure he’s getting to bed on time and enjoying decent meals. Making sure he knows he is involved and important is key for me and I think he gets a lot from seeing his parents working and providing.

Mollie from Grant, Louisiana

With seven kids that range in age from 8 to 28 years old, Mollie is a seasoned multi-tasker, both on the farm and off it. She recently dished to us about her favorite part of her job and the best pieces of advice she’s ever received.

Red Tricycle: How long have you been a tree farmer and how did you get into the Christmas tree business?
Mollie: My parents were tree farmers since I was in high school. The farm was established in 1983 and started as a small operation with few hundred trees. My husband and I purchased the farm from my parents in 1997 and realized quickly that they needed to expand.

RT: What's your favorite part about being a Christmas tree farmer?
Mollie: Honestly it sounds cheesy but the customers really are my favorite part—without them there would not be a tree farm. We have some really deep relationships with our customers with some families coming to the farm for generations.

RT: What do your kids think of your job? How do you feel about your kids following in your footsteps?
Mollie: My kids are an intricate part of the whole operation, though it’s a little harder to balance it all with the two littles since the farm is much larger now. I don’t see any following in our footsteps right now. All the older kids have degrees, but they come on the weekends and help, especially during the busiest weekends like after Thanksgiving.

RT: What are your children’s favorite part of picking out a tree?
Mollie: Walking around and picking it out is the little one’s favorite part. One year we had to get three or four trees because no one could decide and agree on one. We set them up in a cluster with a huge blanket under base and decorated together.

RT: Being in the Christmas tree biz and a mom, what is one piece of advice that you've taken to heart and found really helpful?
Mollie: Here are four pieces of advice I take to heart:
1. Organization is critical, you cannot do this without discipline and planning; from meals to homework to paying bills.
2. Breathe and take it one step at a time.
3. The same skills apply to the business as running a household.
4. Always learn something new.

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