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Central Texas families cherish their search for the perfect Christmas tree, and tree farms help them build memories to last a lifetime.
Text by Elizabeth Trovall
Country: United States

here’s more than one way to pick a Christmas tree, though some methods involve a lot more adventure than others. While some purchase their $100 artificial, pre-lit tree in one swift trip to Wal-Mart, others will pull over to a neighborhood tree lot to buy real trees. There is, however, another approach. Though it entails a little more legwork, it turns an ordinary holiday chore into a family tradition.

Growing up, my family – my brother, parents and two dogs – would drive out to Elgin, Texas, to choose our Christmas tree at one of the local Christmas tree farms. We would pile into the car and head out of the suburbs and into the Texas Hill Country. When my dad turned off the smooth, paved road and we started bumping up and down on the winding dirt road, we knew we were close.

My family would always go to Evergreen Farms, though there are several Christmas tree farms in Central Texas. When my family arrived at the farm, we would first stop to check out the farm animals surrounded by a small fence and then wait for the hayride that would take us to the Christmas tree field. When the tractor would pull up, my family would climb aboard the trailer with other families and enjoy the lazy ride to the field.

The debate over which tree to cut was always my favorite part. My brother and I would always run around trying to find what we thought was the best tree and stand by it until our parents came around to hear our testimonies. We would make our cases for various trees, while the rest of the family would weigh-in. The tree we chose didn’t matter much; it was all about the process of getting it and seeing dad try and cut the tree down with the saw.

My mom said we started going to Evergreen Farms because some friends recommended it. After she and my dad took my brother and me for the first time, we liked it so much it became a tradition.

My mother thinks cutting down a live tree is important. She said, “Partly it’s the process and just making a day of it. Partly it’s supporting the local economy and having a smaller carbon footprint because we’re getting it from closer by.”

My mom also said her favorite part of going to the farm is the smells. “It’s all outdoor smells, farm smells, farm life, pine trees, mostly pine trees. A lot better than Wal-Mart. No chemicals. All natural. Earthy,” she said.

Other Texas families have been going to Elgin for their Christmas trees for nearly two decades. The Davis family has been going to the nearby Elgin Christmas Tree Farm to cut their tree for 18 years now. Karen Davis heard about the farm from a friend from work and also thought it would be a nice tradition to start with her husband and four children.

“It makes the holiday more meaningful and more fun,” said Davis. Her family loves to take advantage of all the fun activities the farm has to offer.

“We’ve done the maze; they have tetherball, they have those little cut-out, painted plywood pictures that you stand behind and put your face through,” said Davis. “We usually always take a family picture there somewhere. I always go through their little gift shop. I usually like to buy an ornament every year.”

Even though Davis’ children are almost all grown-up, they still go with her and her husband to pick out the tree if they can. They also have lunch at the local flea market every year as part of their family tradition.

“Instead of just going to the store and picking out a tree, it has become a family four-hour event and they know… you know… it’s tradition. I think if I said this year we are getting a Sam’s (store-bought) tree, they would not be happy with me.”

Life on a Christmas tree farm

It’s no surprise that the tree farms attract mostly families, because the Elgin tree farms are also run by families. Beth Walterscheidt started Evergreen Farms with her husband, Mike, in 1989 with families in mind.

“Our philosophy and our mission is basically to provide family fun for people.” Though the farm’s main attraction is picking out and cutting down a Christmas tree, there are several additional activities on the farm that enrich the experience.

The farm has a Saturday night campfire where people can roast marshmallows. The farm also sets up pinecone painting, goat feeding, and there’s a playground for kids. Beth also runs farm tours for schoolchildren during the week.

“I’m a retired schoolteacher, and so I guess you never really get that out of your system that you feel like you need to educate people.”

The school tours keep the Walterscheidts busy during the winter months, which is always the most demanding season for them.

“And as the season wears on, … I’m not quite so busy making wreaths, but I’m thinking about next year, what supplies we need for next year, maybe some things to order for the gift shop, things customers asked for that I didn’t have… there’s always something to do.”

During the rest of year, the farm duties depend on the season and the weather. Mike Walterscheidt said, “There’s weed control to do, there’s insect control to do, we have to plant the trees, we have to shear the trees, get the right shape to them, so it just varies… a lot of mowing of course. There’s just a lot of different things to do that have to be done at different times of the year.”

Beth said that shearing the trees is probably the most demanding farm duty, though generally Mike and their son take care of that chore.

“I think the worst thing is when we have to shear the trees. … We have a machine and we go up and down the rows … so they have that Christmas tree shape.”

Beth said this year the Christmas trees had to be sheared twice because the farm received more rain. Rainfall has been hard to come by in Central Texas the last couple of years, so the extra shearing is a small price to pay for the moisture.

Droughts have been the biggest challenge,” said Mike. “This year it’s been pretty good. The last two years have been pretty bad.”

In fact, because of drought in previous years, the Walterscheidts cut back on selling farm trees and instead sold live trees they ordered from other farms outside of the state. Though they always sell some out-of-state trees along with their native trees, they sold a lot fewer Texas trees affected by drought. When the trees don’t receive enough water, they are shorter and have a less desirable color.

But the drought has never been strong enough to keep families from returning to the farm, continuing their Christmas traditions.

“It reinforces my feeling that our families are intact,” said Beth, who loves to see all the families come visit the farm every year.

Extended families — to see them out here having a good time and the kids just having a great time it just makes me feel good.”

It’s no surprise Beth said her favorite time of year, even though it is her busiest, is the Christmas season.

Facts about Evergreen Farms:
Evergreen Farms grows roughly 15,000 Christmas trees. The farm grows Virginia pine, Loblolly pine, Leyland cypress, and Arizona cypress. The Walterscheidts sell up to 2,000 Christmas trees a year. Most trees are sold the two weekends after Thanksgiving. Evergreen Farms also hosts a Pumpkin Hunt in October. Trees are priced per foot and generally run around $40 to $50, or $7 per foot. Evergreen Farms also sells handmade wreaths and garlands. Mike Walterscheidt says 75% of his clients are repeat customers. The Christmas trees on Evergreen Farms grow four to five years before they are cut down.



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Christmas Tree Farm .

Choosing a Christmas Tree is not just about the tree, it’s about tradition. Many people buy artificial trees at stores such as Wal-Mart. Other people will buy a real tree from a neighborhood tree lot. But some people take another approach. It requires more effort, but in the end it is more fun and can become a family tradition.

When I was growing up we would drive to Elgin, Texas to choose our Christmas tree at a local Christmas tree farm. My family always went to Evergreen Tree Farms, but there are many other tree farms in Central Texas. My brother and I ran around trying to find the perfect tree. Then we stood in front of our choices and argued why we thought it was the best one. The rest of the family gave their opinions to help us choose. It was not that important what tree we chose. What was important was the whole process and spending time with the family.

The Elgin tree farms are owned and managed by families. Beth and Mike Walterscheidt started Evergreen Farms in 1989 with families in mind. They enjoy having families and school tours, but it is also a lot of work. They have to control the weeds and the insects, plant the trees, shear them and shape them and much more. Although the Christmas season is the busiest time of the year, it is also Beth’s favorite.

 

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It’s Not About The Tree, It’s About Tradition

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Elementary: Christmas Expressions

Advanced: Idiom: Christmas comes but once a year

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Christmas tree farms

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