When the state calls to say they want a chunk of your land, including the entrance to your business, you either fold up your tent and call it a day or come up with plan B.
Karen Anderson went with plan B, which means that while this may be the last year you’ll see the little wooden house and plywood Santa at the Route 126 entrance to – the state’s extension of Ridge Road is going straight down her driveway – her cut-your-own Christmas tree business isn’t going anywhere.
Anderson, whose father started the rural Plainfield tree farm in 1969, has already relocated the gift shop/warming center to a new, more spacious building and erected new pens for her menagerie of petting zoo animals. When the state completes Ridge Road, her new entrance will be located off of it, she said.
Everything else, however, is staying the same, said Anderson, who has no plan to end her seasonal business.
“I don’t know what else I would do,” said Anderson, 54, who has lived on the property her entire life. “I’ve always said it would take lots and lots and lots of money to get me to sell.”
So it’s business as usual for the 60-acre farm, which grows balsam and Douglas firs and white pines and sells nearly 2,500 annually. The year’s first customers turned up on her doorstep Nov. 19, she said, and from here on out it will be organized chaos until the week before Christmas.
That’s a good thing, said Anderson, who swears she never loses her Christmas spirit. She still loves to see the kids wound up with excitement after tromping around to find the perfect tree and then dropping by the “barn” to warm up with free hot chocolate and popcorn. There’s something about the tradition of it and seeing the same families year after year that keeps her enthusiasm alive, she said.
“I like Christmas,” Anderson said. “The kids really make it fun. They’re out there running around and having snowball fights, which is so much better than (being home) looking at a computer screen.”
For those who have never done the cut-your-own thing, it’s easier than it sounds. Customers head out to the fields by foot or via an open-bed truck, where they scope out the selection and make their choice. If they’re ambitious, they’re given a saw and instructed how to make the cut, but most prefer to let one of the farm’s employees do it for them, Anderson said.
The tree’s then brought back to the barn, where an outdoor shaking machine frees up the loose needles and other things you don’t want to bring home. It’s then fed into a baler that wraps the tree in plastic netting for the drive home.
The common rookie mistake, Anderson said, is to misjudge the height of the tree. They look relatively small in the field – and huge when you get them into the living room. Measuring the height of your ceiling before heading to the farm is a must-do if you don’t want to be chopping off the bottom – or top – when you get home, she said.
Trees cost $5 a foot, or patrons can opt for a pre-cut tree or a live tree with balled roots. Anderson’s sells fraser firs cut from farms in North Carolina, which run between $65 and $120 depending on size, and small live trees that can be planted in the spring ($18 a foot, about 250 pounds in weight).
They also sell live wreaths and garlands, which are made on site, Christmas tree stands and ornaments, and gift items, such as jams, jellies and kits to make bread and baked goods.
And when you’re done choosing your tree and having a snack, you can check out the animals that are part of the farm’s mini-zoo. Many of the birds, including a pair of vivid blue peacocks and a half dozen chickens, wander around all over the property, and other animals include a llama, emu, horse, cows, miniature donkey, turkey, swans and deer.
Part of the charm of Anderson’s is its appearance hasn’t changed much in the 42 years it’s been in business. Even with the changes coming with the new road, Anderson said, they don’t plan to make a lot of improvements that will detract from the rural quality of the farm.
While not as many people choose to cut their own trees as they once did – Anderson says people have just gotten too busy – those who do realize this is the kind of family activity that the kids will remember long after they become adults, Anderson said.
“Kids need to get back to tradition, and that’s what this does,” she said. “It’s a really nice memory.”
ANDERSON TREE FARM
24031 W. Route 126, Plainfield
Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through Christmas Eve
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE
The Illinois Christmas Tree Association makes these recommendations to keep your tree fresh and safe:
- If your tree is not freshly cut from a farm, trim one inch off the tree’s base. This allows the tree to take in water. If you don't do this, the base will seal up with sap within minutes.
- Immediately set your tree into the stand filled with warm tap water.
- Keep the tree away from heat and draft sources, such as fireplaces, radiators and television sets. Test light cords and connections before placing them on the tree to ensure they're in good working order and don’t have cracked or broken insulation or empty light sockets. Never leave the lights on when you go to bed or leave the house.
- The tree must be watered every day to keep it from drying out. A fresh tree can take several quarts of water each day if cared for properly.
Source: Illinois Christmas Tree Association, www.ilchristmastrees.com