Growth Industry

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Published on: Oct. 16, 2012

on the warm June afternoon when I visited Meert Tree Farm.

The Meerts’ first planting was 1,000 Scotch pine seedlings from the state forest nursery. This was before chemical weed control or power mowers. All the cultivation and maintenance was done by hand. At the peak of their operation, they planted as many as 10,000 trees in one year and had 100,000 in the ground.

The Meerts sell approximately 1,000 Christmas trees on a you-cut basis each November and December and supply ball-andburlap trees to wholesale and retail nurseries. Evergreens that grow too large for Christmas trees are turned into Christmas wreaths and sold in Meert Tree Farm’s gift shop during the holiday season.

Because they harvest trees selectively, rather than taking all the trees from a plot at once, they can’t use a mechanized planter. They still set each seedling by hand, just as they did 49 years ago. During the peak years, the Meerts’ children helped with planting. When they needed more help, they hired local high schoolers. Now it’s just Domien, Eileen, one hired hand and their daughter Jennifer Summercamp, who caught the tree-farming bug from her parents.

It sounds like a lot of work for two people who are eligible for Social Security, but they get lots of help from neighbors and friends they have made over the years. Kids who worked for the Meerts now are adults with fond memories of the farm. They are quick to pitch in with special projects, like electrical repairs. People who first came to the farm as wide-eyed toddlers now have children of their own, or even grandchildren, to bring to the farm each Christmas.

“It’s like a family down here,” says Meert. He and Eileen have a special place in their hearts for the staff of the state forest nursery, too. When they visit the facility each spring to pick up their seedlings, they always bring doughnuts.

Although the Meerts have put their tree farm on the market, it remains a central part of their lives. When I ask Domien why he continues to plant, trim and harvest, he laughs and says, “I think it’s a habit. I guess I just like playing with these plants out here.”

Christmas Tree Valley

Al Lintzenich’s career as a residential builder left him with spare time from late fall through winter. He got his start in the Christmas tree business selling

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