Family Christmas traditions created at cut-your-own tree farm
WALWORTH - Steven and Leah Davis, of Sharon, usually head out to Country Side Trees after Thanksgiving to find and cut their Christmas tree. This year, with Thanksgiving being late, they visited the farm on its opening weekend to find that perfect Christmas tree. Maddie, 6, and Kenzie, 5, alternately raced and collapsed between the rows of trees as the family continued their holiday tradition again this year.
It's a tradition Leah remembered from her childhood. Steven said they didn't have real trees for Christmas at their house, but he can remember going out with his grandfather to cut down a tree for the holiday.
Once the Davis family tree was selected, Maddie and Kenzie were coaxed to stand for the traditional photo by the Christmas tree before Steven cut it down with the hand saw.
It's family traditions that bring many out to the fields, saw in hand, to bring home a hand-picked, fresh Christmas tree that they cut down themselves, said Becky Feltham who owns the farm with her husband Glen. Over the 40 years of operating the tree farm, Becky said they have had a lot of repeat customers who used to come with their parents and now want to continue the same tradition with their families.
"It makes me feel old, but it's nice that they enjoyed it and they want to continue," Becky said.
Glen became interested in growing Christmas trees through a family friend who grew trees. Glen's family had farmland in the Walworth area and he started planting trees. Starting out, they sold trees to landscapers to help get through the year until Christmas tree time and Glen worked for airlines. In 1994, their youngest daughter was born and Glen could finally work full-time at the tree farm.
The farm sits on 75 acres with evergreens of varying sizes in every direction. On the family farm down the road another 50 acres of trees are used to make wreaths and garland. They rent an additional 20 acres where trees are fresh cut and brought to the farm for customers who don't want to go out and cut their own.
Special events, such as a visit from Elsa, Newfoundland dogs that will pull customers' trees to their cars, bake sales and a chance to meet adoptable pets, are held between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
While their "season" runs from around Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, running a Christmas tree farm is an all-year process, Becky said.
January and February are spent fixing equipment. Around the end of March or the beginning of April, depending on the weather, seedlings are planted. June, July and August are spent shearing the trees "to make them look like Christmas trees." In October the process of hand-making wreaths and garland begins.
"We supply some of the resorts in the area with their items for decorating, so we try to get that done first," Becky explained. "Then we start making the wreaths and garland for up here."
The store at Country Side Trees, which was built in 2016, provides a place to warm up or shop for ornaments, holiday decor or treat the canine member of the family with a treat from the large selection of elk antler bones from their other business CST Antlers.
Farmers across the state have struggled with the wet weather this year, but Becky said they would "rather have moisture than not."
"We had a lot of rain and part of the field was underwater and some of that was our new seedlings that we had planted this spring," Becky said. "So we'll see if they were under too long or not — probably not until spring."
Something new the last couple of years are colored Christmas trees - a paint that doesn't hurt the tree and if the tree doesn't get cut down it fades away. Becky said they don't paint a lot of them but it is something new instead of flocking which requires a certain temperature and certain equipment.
"It's just a little easier and you still get your colored tree," Becky said.
The average tree size sold is 7-8 feet, but last year Country Side Trees sold a Norway Spruce that stood 23.5 feet tall.
"There are some people who like and have room for those larger trees," said Becky.
A special treat this year for Country Side Trees was marking the start of the 2019 Christmas tree season with a visit from Alice in Dairyland, Abigail Martin, and Walworth County fourth-graders on Nov. 14. Students learned about Wisconsin agriculture and the Christmas tree industry and watched Martin cut down a Christmas tree. The ceremonial tree-cutting is held mid-November each year at a different Wisconsin Christmas tree farm in partnership with the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association.
It was a cold day for the event and they shortened the time for outdoor activities. But it ended with students chanting, "Cut, cut, cut," and then monkey-piling on Martin for a photo after the tree was cut, said Holly Van Dreser, one of Feltham's daughters.
With about four decades of Christmas tree business behind them, Glen and Becky are talking about slowing down, but their daughters want to continue the farm, said Becky.
"It's been a great job," said Becky. "You get to be your own boss and work outside."
For more information about Country Side Trees at W7015 N. Walworth Rd. Walworth, visit the website or call 262-275-5105.