O Christmas tree!
Is there any symbol of the season more potent than the Christmas tree?
Do you cut yours from your own property? Go to a tree farm? Buy from a big-box store? Or use the fake tree you take out of the box in the closet and assemble?
Which way most folks choose depends on their own homes and needs but also on tradition. For many families, there's no tradition quite like the annual trip to the local Christmas tree farm and the experience of the search for the "perfect" tree.
Most of those families don't think of themselves as supporting an important part of their state's agriculture with their tree farm purchase. However, growing Christmas trees is "real farming," just as much as growing soybeans and corn.
Tree farming is also hard work, and just like their counterparts in other aspects of farming, the number of people doing that hard work is shrinking.
"There were more than 80 Christmas tree farms in Kansas when we started back in 1978," says Glen Goering, who with his wife, Celia, operates Pine Lake Farm in Derby. "Today, there are only about half that number."
Celia Goering is president of the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association for 2016 and 2017.
She says the Kansas association is affiliated with the National Christmas Tree Association and benefits from the work of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board.
Celia Goering says there are potential new growers interested in Christmas tree farming, but — just as with other segments of agriculture — it can be difficult to find affordable land in a good location.
The best location is land with proximity to a bigger population area. Pine Lake Farm benefits from being near Derby, only a few miles from Wichita and an easy drive from north-central Oklahoma towns such as Enid and Ponca City. But land close to urban areas also tends to carry a higher price tag. Throw in the reality that you have at least six or seven years of expenses before you have trees big enough to harvest and starting up is even more discouraging.
"It's also easy for newcomers to farming to underestimate the workload," she adds. "You can't just plant a seedling and let it grow, and then after a few years you have a tree to sell. It's an enormous amount of work. Kansas Christmas tree farmers are often employed full time away from the farm, have family responsibilities and produce a beautiful Christmas experience for visitors."
Read more about Pine Lake Farm in this related story.