The Hunter brothers — Nick and Mike — have a Christmas tree farm along Highway 34 just west of Chariton in south-central Iowa. With the help of their family, they sell trees to the public. A restored schoolhouse and store are full of small-town charm and presents to buy, such as homemade wreaths.
Back in 2008, the Hunters were named Iowa Master Farmers by Wallaces Farmer magazine. Here’s their story on how they got started growing and selling Christmas trees.
Family roots grow on Christmas tree farm
In the 1980s, the two farming brothers who raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle, decided they needed a new enterprise to keep busy during the cold Iowa winters and to produce a value-added product. While several options were considered, a hobby tree farm was the winning idea. In spring 1984, the first trees were planted. More were planted each spring, and by 1990 some were large enough to sell.
The first year was marked by a lot of sitting in the truck waiting for customers. By the winter of 1991, Mike and Nick were selling trees out of a small shed on the property. The tiny space was just big enough to sell trees and make wreaths.
Pretty soon the cramped and bustling space served as the retail checkout, a wreath-making station and a gift shop. It didn’t take long to realize the business and the growing families needed more space, so an addition to the tree barn was added in 1993.
Good reasons to buy local
In 1996, another opportunity arose. A schoolhouse near the town of Derby was up for sale. The Hunters bought it and moved it to the Christmas tree farm. It has since served as the holiday gift shop and has also been the location for family pictures, engagements and even wedding ceremonies. If you ask their patrons what makes them come back to the Hunter Brothers Tree Farm to select and buy a tree each year, the answers all tie back to one thing: the family and a fun atmosphere.
Their tree farm has a motto: “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy local.” The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is encouraging Iowans to consider choosing a fresh, Iowa grown Christmas tree to decorate their home this holiday season.
Over 100 Christmas tree farms in Iowa
“Iowa is fortunate to have more than 100 Christmas tree farms in all parts of the state,” says Mike Naig, Iowa deputy secretary of agriculture. “Selecting a fresh Christmas tree can be part of a great family tradition, and is an opportunity to connect with an Iowa farmer and support the local economy.”
The Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association has an online directory of tree farms across Iowa at IowaChristmasTrees.com.
Besides locations of the farms, the “Find a Farm” directory also includes a phone number and hours of operation for each farm to assist in planning. The website has information on types of Christmas trees and tips on keeping your tree in good condition during the holiday season.
Annually, members of the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association (ICTGA) donate trees to the capitol building in Des Moines, including trees for the governor’s office, the lieutenant governor’s office and the rotunda. The beautifully decorated rotunda tree is available for viewing daily by the public on the second floor of the capitol building.
$1 million industry for Iowa economy
Iowa Christmas tree farms devote over 1,500 acres to Christmas tree production in Iowa and harvest about 39,500 Christmas trees each year. The result is a $1 million industry contributing to Iowa’s economy.
LOCAL GROWERS: Iowa has over 100 Christmas tree farms across the state.
It takes six to 12 years to grow a Christmas tree before it is ready to be sold. Most tree farms in Iowa are 3 to 8 acres in size and sell trees by choose-and-harvest method, where customers come to the farm and cut their own trees.
ICTGA tips to keep in mind to make your trip to a Christmas tree farm more enjoyable:
• Be sure you know what size tree fits in your home, both height and width, before you leave. Trees always look smaller in the field, and there is nothing worse than bringing a tree indoors only to find it’s too big.
• Wear comfortable clothes, sturdy shoes and gloves that you aren’t afraid to get dirty.
• Make sure the tree you choose has a straight trunk and will fit properly in your tree stand.
• Fresh trees need water. Once you get your tree home, remember to check the water daily. Trees can use up to a gallon of water a day.
• Make sure you unplug any tree lights before you leave home or go to bed.
• Fresh-cut Christmas trees are biodegradable! Recycle your tree after Christmas.
Iowa State University Extension has additional information on selecting and caring for Christmas trees. Follow these tips and you will be able to enjoy a beautiful, fresh and locally grown Christmas tree throughout the holiday season.