Christmas tree farm is 'all about the holiday'
Mosinee — Regan Pourchot learned how to raise the perfect Christmas tree when he was a kid.
His dad started a business in the 1950s and Pourchot helped him out during the summers, shearing each tree into the shape desired by winter buyers. They cut down the trees in November and took them to markets in the suburbs of Chicago.
Today, Pourchot, who is partially retired, but still does event planning from home, sells trees from his 80 acres of property near Lake DuBay, called Pheasant Pines. About 30 of those acres are covered in bright evergreen trees, snow hanging from their branches.
Although the Christmas tree industry in Wisconsin has dwindled from 859 farms in 2002 to 689 farms in 2012, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, Pourchot decided to stick with it. In the end, he said, it's all about creating an experience that can't be found when selecting a fake tree in a box.
Pourchot started his farm 10 years ago, selling mostly to families looking to choose and cut their own tree. Most of his customers, he said, come back year after year.
"We try to create a family tradition," Pourchot said. "It's all about the family experience."
But that family experience doesn't just start and end every December, when families make their way out to the tree farm. Years of work go into each and every tree sold at Pheasant Pines.
"If you take it sequentially, this time of year, we start to think of what to plant for next year," Pourchot said. "Part of the magic is that you plant knowing that you won't sell the tree for 10 years."
Pourchot said he's already ordered the trees he'll plant in the spring, about 2,500 trees total. And those trees don't come in the form of seeds. They've already spent two to four years growing in a greenhouse before they even reach the fields at Pheasant Pines. When the tiny trees reach Pheasant Pines, he and his family spend about two weekends in the spring, planting trees.
After all the new trees are planted, the shearing starts in late June. Shearing helps to create the familiar triangle shape of trees that is expected when families head out to the tree farm. The shearing is done by hand by Pourchot and his family, and it takes a couple of months to complete. Shearing wraps up in early September, if all goes according to plans, and then Pourchot and his family wait for Thanksgiving to come and go.
When it's finally time, Christmas tree lovers will make their way out into the acres of fields in search of the perfect tree to take home. This year, Pheasant Pines has already had some busy weekends, especially because snow has started to fly.
"It was really fun for families last week," Pourchot said. "We got the sleds out and parents pulled their kids around and the trees back."
Families will search low and high for their tree, and once they find it, they can cut it down themselves and have it shaken and baled — wrapped in a net so it's easier to transport.
A tree at Pheasant Pines ranges in price from $25 to $40, depending on what type of Christmas tree is chosen. On average, the American family spends about $50 on their real tree a year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.
Although real trees may take a little more time and effort than artificial trees, Pourchot said that generally, real trees are becoming more popular with Christmas tree lovers again. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 12.5 million fake trees were purchased, but that doesn't match up to the 25.9 million real trees that were also purchased.
"Artificial trees at first put a dent in the industry," he said. "But choose and cut is more popular for a family experience."
Pourchot works hard to create a fun family experience at his farm, from a warming room filled with hot cocoa, cookies and Christmas gifts for sale, to petting zoos and sled rides.
"It's all about the holiday," he said.
Pheasant Pines is located at 4646 N. Marathon County X, Mosinee.
Contact Going Out reporter Laura Schulte at 715-297-7532 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @schultelaura.
Wondering how to keep a live tree healthy through the holidays?
According to Pourchot, a tree needs to have a fresh cut to survive longer. If you buy a pre-cut tree, take a little off the bottom to create a clean cut, with no sap coverage. Then allow the tree to thaw out in the garage, before shocking it with the warm house. Once inside, water the tree for the first time with lukewarm water, and continue to monitor the water level for the first 48 hours. A large tree may take up to a gallon of water in the first few days.
After the first few days, water the tree regularly to prevent it from drying out. A well-watered tree is much safer and less likely to create a fire hazard.