Courtesy of Tammi Elbert
By Amy Burger
Nothing compares to the aroma of a real, live Christmas tree—especially one you’ve cut yourself. Missouri is home to a number of family farms where you can enjoy the fine holiday tradition of finding and logging your own yuletide centerpiece. So prepare to take a hayride, sip some hot cocoa, and pick the perfect tree off the hillside.
This eighty-acre farm in beautiful Missouri wine country has been family-owned for more than one hundred years, and it presents a postcard-worthy holiday scene with Christmas trees dotting the landscape and a log cabin farmhouse decorated for the season by owners Vern and Bee Spaunhorst. The farm has been in Vern’s family since around 1850. It was originally owned by his grandmother and great uncle, and then it was passed down to his mom and dad. When his dad asked if he should keep the farm or sell it, Vern opted to keep it in the family, and he and Bee took over.
They tried planting other types of crops at first, but the acreage was too small for large-scale crops like corn. So, in 1980, they planted Christmas trees. They started with Scotch pines and later discovered that they could also grow fir trees, which are quite popular but harder to grow in this area. Now, they have three varieties: Canaan fir, Norway spruce, and white pine.
Around the time they began growing Christmas trees, they also planted one hundred pecan trees, and they continue to sell pecans during the holidays, too. In 2011, the Spaunhorsts received the Governor’s Award for Agricultural Achievement from Governor Jay Nixon.
There’s an original old log house on the farm as well as other historic buildings that have been restored. Vern and Bee have five grown children who all live nearby and help them out on the weekends and during Christmastime, as well as five grandchildren who love the magic of the farm, especially during the holidays.
The farm provides saws for cutting and tree carts and sleds for hauling trees out of the field. It also offers tree shaking, netting, and drilling. For those who don’t want to do the sawing, the farm sells pre-cut Fraser firs, decorated fir wreaths, and combination greenery bundles.
After selecting a tree, visitors can escape the cold to shop for holiday ornaments and décor and warm up with hot chocolate, warm apple cider, and freshly baked chocolate chip and sugar cookies in the shop in the farm’s old corncrib. Some of the gifts are even handcrafted by the Spaunhorsts.
“We’ve been selling trees for twenty-six years and have some customers who have been back every year since we started,” Vern says. “Many of them came as kids and now bring their kids. The best part is watching the kids come running across the yard to get their trees; that’s what it’s all about.”
Heritage Valley Tree Farm opens the day after Thanksgiving and is then open Saturdays and Sundays only from 10 am to 5 pm, closing for the season on December 20.
Schweizer Orchards has operated in St. Joseph since the early 1900s. Conrad Frederick Schweizer founded the farm on forty acres, where he raised apples, raspberries, and pears. Today, it’s a fifth-generation family business operated by Conrad’s great-grandsons, Nick and Cory, as well as Nick’s wife, Abby, and Cory’s wife, Allison.
Over the years, Schweizer Orchards grew to include an on-site market plus eighty-six acres where guests can pick their own blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, apples, and pumpkins in season. In 1999, a woman in nearby Savannah, Missouri, was selling a Christmas tree farm. The Schweizers purchased that farm, cleaned it out, and moved the operation to St. Joseph, where they now make an easy transition from apples, pumpkins, and hayrides in the fall to Christmas trees in the winter.
All of the Schweizer family lives near the orchard in nearby Savannah, including Nick and Cory’s parents, Steve and Becky, who still help out with day-to-day-operations. Cory never really considered doing anything else.
“It’s just something I grew up with,” he says.
Visitors to the farm can find and cut their own trees in the white pine and Scotch pine fields and enjoy hayrides out to the fields on weekends. Pre-cut trees are also available. The market will shake, wrap, drill, and load trees while guests warm up inside with apple cider or hot cocoa. The store also offers gift items, garland, and fresh wreaths in a variety of sizes. Santa visits the first weekend of December.
“The neatest thing is seeing people coming from the city and riding the hay rack and cutting down their own tree,” Cory says. “It’s great having the kids actually see where the Christmas trees really come from, instead of just a store. They learn something while they do it.
”Christmas trees are available at Schweizer Orchards the day after Thanksgiving until mid-December.
Fulk Farms is a six-generation, family-owned farm northwest of Kansas City operated by Dennis Fulk and his son, Brian. Dennis’s great-great-grandfather founded the farm in 1889. In 1998, the University of Missouri Extension Service awarded Fulk Farms Century Farm status.
The farm originally grew crops like corn and soybeans and still does during the summer. Dennis didn’t plant Christmas trees until 1987.
“When we purchased our own Christmas tree at that time, we had to go quite a way to get one and cut it down, so we thought we might grow them on the farm,” Dennis says. “We believed it was a great location— hilly ground near the highway—to plant them. We just learned by doing it. The first year we sold them was 1992.”
Dennis and Brian plant new trees in spring before the regular crops and shear them in summer. They harvest their other crops in the fall, and then move on to the Christmas trees after the regular growing season.
Fulk Farms offers free tractor-pulled wagon rides to the fields, where guests can choose from a large selection of Scotch and white pines. The farm also sells pre-cut Fraser, Douglas, and balsam firs. The Christmas Shop in the cozy, heated barn offers hand-made, fresh pine wreaths and garlands, fir wreaths and roping, and various gift items, which shoppers can peruse while enjoying complimentary coffee and hot chocolate.Situated just across the river from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Fulk Farms sees a lot of military families come out during the holidays.
“We see a lot of familiar faces but also lots of new faces,” Dennis says. “It’s fun to meet everyone and watch the kids enjoy it.”
Fulk Farms opens at 9 am the Friday after Thanksgiving and is regu- larly open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. The farm is closed on Mondays.
One of the largest Christmas tree farms in the state, Pea Ridge Forest is nestled in the hills along the Missouri River in scenic Hermann. The original owner, Myron Gwinner, first planted the trees there in 1955. The current owners, LeRoy and Mary Rood, purchased the farm in 1972 after long careers in the aerospace industry.
The Roods met at McDonnell Douglas while working on Project Gemini, NASA’s second human spaceflight program. After many years living in St. Louis, Mary was interested in moving to the country and owning a farm. Someone mentioned to them that there was a Christmas tree farm for sale, so they took a look, liked it, bought it, and moved into the property’s 140-year-old log home to begin their second career.
Over the years, the Roods taught the business to their sons, Mike and Scott.
“The boys were in kindergarten and first grade when we bought the farm, and they both worked here through high school and college,” LeRoy says.
Mike attended Mizzou, where he earned his degree in forestry. He is now a certified arborist. Scott studied international relations but eventu- ally returned to farm life. The two brothers officially run the business now and live on the farm property. Although LeRoy and Mary are mostly retired, they still contribute and keep active on the farm.
“She handles the money, and I fix things,” LeRoy says.
Visitors to Pea Ridge can enjoy a hayride to and from the fields of Scotch pines, where they choose and cut a tree. The farm will shake and bale the trees and offers pre-cut trees, too. In the barn, a large, stone fireplace provides warmth, and guests can enjoy homemade baked goods, drinks, kettle corn, and even wine from the local vineyards. Santa is on hand to meet the kids on weekends, and the holiday shop offers ornaments from all over the world in addition to wreaths and bows handmade by Mary.
“We get about ten to twelve thousand people through here during the Christmas season,” LeRoy says. “We see a lot of people we wouldn’t see normally at the holidays, so it’s great to visit with folks.”
Pea Ridge Forest is open the weekend before Thanksgiving until Christmas from 9 am until dark each day.