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Serving: IN

Christmas tree farming takes planning, dedication

Slideshow: Christmas tree growers are among the original agritourism pioneers.

If you visit Sickels Tree Farm this year, you can pick out your own Christmas tree with your family and cut it down, or you can select a pre-cut tree grown on the farm. You can also visit the gift shop, which is brimming with decorative items, or purchase a wreath handmade on the farm. And if you visit late in the day or drive by at night, you can watch a gigantic light display, featuring lights set to music, reindeer shining out among the trees and a 20-foot-tall “Christmas tree made of trees” — sort of. It’s agritourism at its best.

Duane and Marsha Sickels, Lynn, Ind., didn’t have agritourism in mind when they planted Christmas trees some 35 years ago. Agritourism wasn’t even a word yet. They just wanted to grow trees on a farm better-suited to other uses besides producing corn and soybeans, and diversify their income. So, they added Christmas tree farming to their grain and livestock farm.

This is their 28th season selling Christmas trees, Marsha says. They sell the bulk of their trees to families who want to buy their own tree and to customers who pick out a pre-cut tree. Wholesaling trees was never a big part of their business, and they primarily do it today only to fill special orders.

A lot has changed in 35 years since the couple first planted trees. They built a pole building at the tree farm location after a few years. Three years ago, they added the light display to help bring attention to their tree farm, and so others could enjoy it.

Hard work required

Many things haven’t changed, including the need for hard work and lots of planning. It can take six to eight years before you sell your first trees and see a return, Marsha says. They continue to plant new trees to replace those that are harvested annually. Several thousand trees were planted in 2019, and several thousand more are scheduled for planting in the spring of 2021.

Growing Christmas trees also involves a large investment in specialized equipment, from mowers and trimming equipment to shakers and baggers used at harvesttime. Even most cut-your-own customers have their trees bagged with netting for easier transport.

Labor requirements are huge all year long. During the selling season, the tree farm requires numerous part-time employees. The goal is to have some returning employees to train new workers. Most part-time employees stay for several years, until they graduate high school or college.

You can visit the Christmas tree farm and see it for yourself this season. It’s at 6366 S. U.S. Highway 27, Lynn, IN 47355. The farm and store open the day after Thanksgiving from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST, with the same hours on Saturdays. Sundays and through the week the rest of the season, hours are 1 to 5:30 p.m. The selling season runs through Christmas Eve, with limited hours that day, and the light show continues nightly through December.

Here’s something else Sickels Tree Farm didn’t have 35 years ago: a website. Learn more at sickelstreefarm.com. To see photos of the operation, click through the accompanying slideshow.

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