Alice in Dairyland marks opening of Christmas tree season

Colleen Kottke
Editor/Wisconsin State Farmer
70th Alice in Dairyland Crystal Siemers-Peterman is all smiles after cutting down a white spruce, officially kicking off the 2017 Christmas tree season during a ceremony at Ginter Farms in Adams County on Nov. 14.

FRIENDSHIP - Students from the Adams Friendship School District spent the day with Alice in Dairyland Crystal Siemers-Peterman learning about the Christmas tree industry during a visit to Ginter Tree Farms.

Inside the farms' large greenhouse, students rotated among stations that honed their knowledge of the different variety of evergreens and wildlife found on the Adams County farm, as well as the ins and outs of making fresh wreaths and more.

The small band of fifth graders accompanied by members of the Adams Friendship FFA Chapter and visiting dignitaries made their way to one of the rows of Christmas trees on the 620-acre farms to watch Siemers-Peterman wield a hand saw to cut down an 8-foot tall White Spruce - marking the start of the 2017 Christmas tree season.

72nd Assembly District Rep. Scott Krug speaks during the tree cutting ceremony at Ginter Tree Farms on Nov. 14.

"They're going to help me strap it on top of my vehicle," said Siemers-Peterman. "No one will be able to miss me on my way home!"

The tree felled by Alice in Dairyland on Nov. 14 went to the highest bidder at the Farm to Table Event sponsored by the Adams County 2018 Alice in Dairyland Finale Committee. The winning bidder of the evergreen happened to be Siemers-Peterman's own mother.

"When I was little we always had a huge, fresh Christmas tree in our house. The last couple of years we stepped away from that," Siemers-Peterman admitted. "This year we're getting back to that tradition."

The Christmas tree cutting by Alice in Dairyland is held each year on a different Wisconsin tree farm. This year's host farm is Ginter Tree Farms located just north of Friendship, and a member of the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association.

Alice in Dairyland Crystal Siemers-Peterman is joined by the owners of Ginter Tree Farms Karen and Bill Miller.

Current owners of the farm are Bill and Karen Miller. The farmstead was originally purchased by Karen's grandfather in 1919 who raised cattle and chickens along with crops. Karen's father purchased the farm in the 1950s and soon dispersed the herd of cattle when he discovered he was allergic to cattle hair.

"He decided to plant trees instead. We bought the business in 1999, and were harvesting about 10,000 trees a year and selling them wholesale," said Bill Miller. "At the time we were growing a lot of scotch and white pine. Growers preferences have changed over the years so we're selling more of the white pine and white spruce, balsam and Fraser firs for Christmas trees and Norway pine for wreaths."

Longtime employee Lil Piatek shares tip on how to attach clusters of pine cones to a wreath.

Rows and rows of evergreens fill about 120 acres of the farm's 620 acres. Nowadays Ginter Tree Farms is a cut-your-own type of operation that also sells around 300 fresh Christmas wreaths that are shipped across the country.

"We bring in some Fraser firs and cedar trees because the deer up here eat those trees like candy," said Karen Miller.

Bill says events that help to educate students about the state's Christmas tree industry is important. There are more than 850 Christmas tree farms across the state, covering more than 23,600 acres.

"There's more to it than finding these trees at a store or in the parking lot of Walmart. These trees come from a farm where there's a lot of work involved before they're harvested and sent off," Miller said.

Alice in Dairyland Crystal Siemers Peterman quizzes students on Wisconsin agricultural products.

Siemers-Peterman agrees. 

"Not many people realize that Wisconsin is the nation's fifth-largest Christmas tree producer with an annual harvest of more than 600,000 trees," she said. "Even I was surprised at the worth of this industry - $16 million a year to the state's economy. This shows how important agriculture is to our state."

Siemers-Peterman hopes that students go home and encourage their parents to try a real Christmas tree as a new family tradition.

Karen Miller says that many families make a day out of selecting their Christmas tree.

"Some people come as multi-family groups on a weekend and spend all afternoon out on the tree farm, having a picnic among the trees and then coming in with their trees after dark," Miller said. "It's rather scenic out there with all the trees and wildlife."