Kansas Christmas tree farms sell more than a Christmas tree, a wreath, or maybe an apple pie or a jar of homemade jam. They sell an experience.
"You come out and go out to the field and choose your tree. It can be time consuming, but it’s memorable and fun and an experience," says Ardie Goering, who with her husband, Wynn, operates Pine Creek Farm near Goessel, Kan. "We really are selling an experience as well as a product."
The Goerings live in New Mexico part of the year and come back to Kansas to do the necessary work on the farm and man the sales barn from Thanksgiving to Christmas. They also sell wreaths, handmade Christmas ornaments and crafts, and some food items. They grow Scotch pines, Austrian pines and some southwestern white pines, and they bring in Frasier firs from Michigan.
"We have peppernuts, which are a small, spicy Christmas cookie that has a German heritage," she says. "We also bring some pistachios and pistachio brittle from our home in New Mexico. Everything we sell comes from small, family-owned businesses."
Tree farms like theirs, she says, offer a way to turn back the clock to a simpler time, back when Christmas was largely focused on homemade gifts and food.
Pine Creek Farm is a second-generation Christmas tree farm. Ardie’s parents, Lloyd and Marlene Schroeder, started the farm in 1970 as a way to diversify their operation, which also included poultry, wheat, milo and soybeans.
"When my parents retired from the rest of the farming operation, they kept the Christmas tree farm and we took it over from them," Ardie says.
Wynn also grew up on a farm near Moundridge and farmed his parents' land for a while before they moved to Albuquerque, she says.
"We’ve both got pretty deep roots in farming, and I’m proud that this is still a productive farm," she says. "Our farm has more of the look of a traditional farm. Our trees grow up and down the creek that runs through it and gave it the name Pine Creek Farm," she said. "A lot of tree farms have rows and rows of trees. Ours are more scattered."
Pine Creek Farm has about 2,000 of its 6,000 trees growing under irrigation, she said, after the brutal summers of 2011 and 2012 caused them heavy losses of seedlings.
"A tree takes a long time — about seven years — to grow from seedling to harvest size of 6 to 8 feet," she said. "When you have a year that you lose all the seedlings, it impacts your business years down the road."
Caring for the trees and shearing them annually to achieve a full, Christmas tree shape is hard work, much of it done under the hot, summer sun.
"Shearing takes a lot of body strength and my husband does most of it," she says.
The customers at Pine Creek Farm are a diverse lot of people who come to the farm for the experience it offers, Ardie says.
"Christmas tree farming is a niche operation and can be challenging in Kansas because of our very hot summers and in the last few years the warm winters and very dry spring season. It’s hard on trees. But we are here for the people who want to meet and know the people who grew their tree. Going to the farm and cutting your own tree is not for every consumer. I’m fine with that," she says.
Pine Creek Farm is open from Thanksgiving through Christmas.