Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters
December 1, 2023
PRUDENT TRADITION: Aaron and Michelle Peck purchased BEL Christmas Tree Farm, Salina, Kan., about seven years ago. Jennifer M. Latzke
There’s a seasonality to agritourism.
But what if there’s a way that you could extend the magic of the season? Many operators are turning to side gigs to extend their businesses and add income.
Michelle and Aaron Peck own and operate BEL Christmas Tree Farm, just east of Salina, Kan. The couple have found several different smart opportunities to extend the marketability of their farm outside of December’s rush.
Seven years ago, the owners of BEL Tree Farm were retiring after 60 years of providing holiday memories for the families of Saline County. And although owning a tree farm wasn’t on Michelle’s Christmas list to Santa, as she says, Aaron had special memories of working at the farm during winters when he was a teenager. Both knew that if the tradition was to stay alive for the community, they would need to buy it.
“It’s more a labor of love, and something that we want to try to keep open and keep going for the community and the new generations that like to come out,” Aaron adds. Michelle is the executive director of The Garage Automotive Museum in Salina. Aaron used to sell grain for Cargill, but now has an agricultural spraying business. And now each fall and winter, they put on their Santa hats.
But they knew that if they were going to make this business work, they needed to expand what the farm offered and think creatively, Michelle says.
“To keep this going, you have to be really thrifty and really creative,” she says. “You’ve got to find great partners to work with, great vendors to work with. It takes a lot of people.” That’s where Michelle’s background in marketing comes in very handy.
They took stock of what they had on the farm. They had acres of trees in various stages of growth. They had a barn that also served as a gift shop. And they were just a few miles outside of Salina — close enough for families to continue their traditions of going to the country to pick a tree for Christmas.
The next step was to start adding complimentary business enterprises.
The Pecks have introduced a lot of things in seven years to add to the magic of BEL Tree Farm:
Photo sessions. One of the most popular additions to help extend the tree farm’s season has been offering it to local photographers to use as a backdrop for mini family photo sessions. “We contract with photographers all over the region, and they will book their mini sessions and Christmas mini sessions,” Michelle says. “We’ve always charged just a flat $25 per session.” The photographers are responsible for managing their own bookings and paying the session fee. The Pecks only allow photo shoots during times when they aren’t open to the public, so that tree customers aren’t in the way of pictures, of course. The trees have been used not only for family Christmas photos, but also for senior pictures, wedding pictures and more.
Gift shop. Today the Pecks sell fresh wreaths the family makes by hand each season. Customers can also buy tree stands and other accessories to help keep their trees fresh, as well as gift items that also promote BEL Tree Farm. They have a small line of local food gifts, including their special cinnamon syrup they use in their free hot spiced apple cider. Locals have a multigenerational connection to getting their trees at the farm, and the Pecks choose items for the gift shop that reflect that connection.
Sponsorships. Michelle works with local businesses and community groups to sponsor visits from Santa, and to bring out bands and live entertainment on weekends during the season. Vanderbilts, for example, sponsors the work boots that their employees wear during the season in exchange for promotional space at the farm. A local school group volunteers to put on an ornament-making party for children.
Social media has really made these added ventures work, Aaron says. Michelle’s marketing expertise helps, but having a presence on Facebook and Instagram is vital to enticing customers to come experience the tree farm for themselves.
Even though there’s plenty of added side gigs to bring in income, there’s still plenty of free things to do at the tree farm, Aaron says. “We try to not nickel-and-dime a family, and still be profitable and watch our overhead at the same time,” Aaron adds. “We just want all families to be able to come out here and enjoy the farm.”
For example, it’s free to come out to the farm and walk among the trees and the giant fiberglas Christmas decorations like the waving Santa Claus at the front of the property.
“That Santa is probably about the same age as I am,” Aaron says with a smile. Generations of Salina families have pictures of themselves with it, Michelle says.
“We offer free popcorn, and we do free apple cider with the cinnamon syrup we make that we also sell in the gift shop,” Michelle adds. “We still offer a free Christmas ornament with every tree purchase.”
The Pecks also offer free horse-drawn hayrack rides the first weekend in December. And now they have added two Christmas donkeys, Belle and Yukon Cornelius, to the delight of children and their parents — as well as a small group of goats. Aaron says it’s a good way to add a little farm education to the family excursions to select their trees.
The Pecks say there’s a lot of opportunities that agritourism businesses could add to their operations to extend their seasonality. But the key to extending the holiday magic is choosing something that fits within your operation’s labor and capital resources — and is enjoyable.
“We just love Christmas and all things Christmas,” Michelle says.
Editor, Kansas Farmer
Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.
Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.
While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.
She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.
Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.
Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.
“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”
She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.
You May Also Like
Current Conditions for
Enter a zip code to see the weather conditions for a different location.
Are European farmer protests a sign of what’s to come?Mar 4, 2024
Prairie Farmer names 2024 Master FarmersMar 4, 2024
3 to-do items before the spring busy seasonMar 4, 2024
Wildfire conditions improve, 'still a tinderbox'Mar 4, 2024
Grains scratch out moderate gains on MondayMar 4, 2024
Policy quick hits: Should international shippers receive biofuel credits?Mar 4, 2024
Are European farmer protests a sign of what’s to come?Mar 4, 2024