Jeff and Haley Reese from Hancock County are the editors of the Dec. 3, 2018 Growing our Generation, featuring insights and ideas directly from Ohio’s young farmers and food and agricultural professionals.
Hello, we are Jeff and Haley Reese of Findlay, Ohio, located in Hancock County. Jeff is a marketing specialist for Ohio’s Country Journal and Ohio Ag Net, and I am an organization director for Ohio Farm Bureau covering Hancock, Hardin, Seneca and Wyandot counties. Jeff and I met when my AgriPOWER Class XIII toured his family’s Christmas tree farm, Kaleidoscope Farms and we married just this past March. Alternative agriculture is the name of our game – we do not have cow calf pairs, or row crops, or acres of corn, but we do know how to grow a lot of Christmas trees! Currently the farm has 26 acres planted in trees varying in size, age and variety and demands the majority of our ‘after work hours.’ This year has also tested our learning curves, as we’ve been working closely with Jeff’s uncle, Tom, learning the ropes of his farming operation consisting of soybeans, corn, alfalfa and all the odds and ends that handy-men are good at! As we learn more, we hope to be an integral part of Tom’s farm and helping the century farm thrive.
For many families, Christmas starts to come to mind in November as decorations go up, shopping commences and family gatherings ensue. But Christmas starts in March for many Christmas tree farm families. Typically, in early March we receive seedling trees. Planting is a family affair – Jeff has three brothers and eight nieces and nephews who all help in one way or another so trees can get in the ground. Planting Christmas trees requires many of the same practices that crop farmers must consider each year — rotational planting for disease management, analysis of soil types and which tree varieties grow best where, sizes of the tree rows for maximum efficiency and production size and more. In years past, we planted close to 2,000 seedlings, but we will double that this spring to increase our available tree count in years to come. After trees are planted, we begin the process of spraying for weeds and fertilizing. After that comes shearing, pulling off pine cones, cutting out grape vine and honeysuckle, bagworm removal, spraying for weeds and fertilizer for a second time and then mowing, mowing, mowing, and then some more mowing. We estimate that every tree on our farm is handled at least 15 times each year. The typical lifespan of a Christmas tree, before it is cut down for a family to enjoy in their home during the holidays, is eight years. That means each tree that leaves our farm has been handled almost 120 times!
On the farm we try to visit with as many customers as we can. The question we get asked the most by our customers is “why trees”? Believe it or not, a Christmas tree farm is a lot of hard work all year long. My dad had four boys and he wanted us to learn what it meant to work hard but to be a part of something. Kaleidoscope Farms has taught us what it means to not only grow a Christmas tree, but to grow a business. We had to work together and take advantage of each other’s strengths, and use these strengths to create the best holiday experience we can for our customers. Each year, we are so fortunate to be able to experience the family traditions our customers have developed and get to be a part of their special experiences they create at the farm. Some families get ugly trees (on purpose), some wear ugly sweaters and some take photos of the ugly guys cutting down their tree! We have grown up knowing what it means to serve others and we have brought that into our work and home lives. The farm is an ever present line item on our “to do list” all year-round, but when Haley and I get to take our nieces out with us to price trees on a beautiful fall day, I can’t help but think “why not trees?”
In the early years of the farm, opening day was the day following Thanksgiving, and this day was called “Green Friday.” We would stay open until dark on Green Friday and then we would only be open on the weekends. Eventually, we put lights up on the farm. These lights allowed us to stay open until after dark and then also enabled us to establish regular hours during weekdays. Back then, the school bus would drop my brothers and me off at the farm (3 miles from home) to work, but after work those lights shone on brother football games and snowball fights and play time with our cousins. As young kids, we would greet and walk with every customer to answer their questions as they picked out their perfect tree, take pictures for the families and let the little ones “help” cut down the tree. We would then carry the tree by hand up to the barn to shake the old needles out and bale it up and tie it to the car. We have tied trees onto snowmobiles, two seat convertibles and no one in our family will forget the old Mercury Lynx. Our entire goal is to make getting a tree an experience and even more to get people out of the towns and onto the farm. We still do all those things when we can because the next generation needs to know why it is important to serve others, be kind and helpful, and hopefully one day they will be playing some pick-up games with their cousins and friends under those same lights, too…but only after the work is done.
I know for some people the thought of a “perfect tree” makes picking out a real tree difficult. Real trees are very rarely “perfect” but that is what makes it unique. Real trees, just like real tree farms, have imperfections. Christmas trees are often grown on ground that isn’t viable farm ground. Fir trees like sandy/well drained soil. Pine trees like heavy/wet clays. They all like their soil pH to be acidic. Real trees provide habitat for wildlife by either being protection from a winter storm, a branch to build a nest on or a perch to watch for predators. Their roots help to hold soils from eroding and when they are selected to become a Christmas tree they can be recycled. Real trees make great cover piles for animals in the winter, they can be submerged in ponds for fish habitat or ground into mulch and reused around the farm during muddy years like this one. Real trees also make great reminders of home. Ohio Christmas Tree Association created “Operation Evergreen” to send real trees to troops who are stationed overseas. There is no amount of plastic and wire that can replace a real tree when you are far from home. This is a wonderful program that our family has been honored to donate trees to as a thank you to troops. Ohio tree farms are always eager to supply trees but shipping them is expensive. If you are interested, please support this program.