Source: Times Citizen Communications
by: Corey Meints
Nobody really notices a tree farm until they need a tree. For the common person, that usually happens right about now.
While he is busy all year long, Homestead Evergreens owner Norm Houston admits that the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are his busiest. Located at 23625 Hwy. 175 west of Eldora, the tree farm routinely sees customers from the immediate area and beyond flock to his business. He also offers hardwood trees, fruit trees, shrubs, evergreens, windbreaks, landscaping and maintenance, and tree pruning the rest of the year. In addition to Christmas trees, Houston has wreaths, and garland. He even helps schools and other organizations each year with fundraising through the sale of wreaths.
Tree farms are becoming fewer and farther between, Houston said. At one point, there were three in Hardin County. Now, after buying the business 25 years ago, his is the only one. The next closest farms to Iowa Falls are in Hampton.
"When I bought this, it was the oldest tree farm in Hardin County and one of the oldest in central Iowa," Houston said. "There's been several to close since I bought this."
Homestead Evergreens is the epitome of a family business at this time of year. Son Tobi pretty much handles a lot of the business for a couple weeks each year. He said he enjoys the break from his regular job driving truck. It's the reactions from families when they find the right tree that he likes best.
"Kids love being out here around the trees, and they love the baler," T. Houston said. "Some have even gone through it. This is something a lot of kids haven't seen or done before. I like the smell, especially of the fresh balsams. I look forward to this all year."
Houston offers balsam and Fraser firs, which are the most popular because of their short needles, as well as white and scotch pine. Also available are Douglas firs, red pines, and blue and Norway spruce.
The Homestead owner said he sells around 60 self-cut trees a year. The rest, some 250 to 300, are of the pre-cut variety. He said weather determines a lot of that.
"When it's nice out, it's great for the little kids to run around and look," N. Houston said. "When it's crummy out, and there's a lot of of snow, people don't like going out as much to cut their own."
One thing the Houston family enjoys more than anything is seeing the joy on faces as a family picks out a perfect-for-them Christmas tree. On the Friday after thanksgiving, with temperatures suggesting anything but Christmas, the Houstons sent out nearly a dozen trees before noon.
One of those families came from Grundy Center. And, while dad Russ Dillavou played it off a little bit, he enjoyed the time with his wife Lisa and children Luke, Lael.
"We don't always go with a live tree, but we have the last three years," Dillavou said. "The wife likes the smell. I had very little say in the tree we got, but they enjoy it. We'll be decorating it in a day or two. The kids do the lower part, I get the top. There's not a lot left you can do as a family, but this is one of them. We have trees in every room. This will be the live one"
Jason and Danielle Fults, of Iowa Falls, brought their children Myla (10), Ava (7), and Channing (4) to the farm to pick out their tree. It's something they have done for the last four or five years. While Channing and his sisters played a little hide-n-seek among the showroom trees, each had their say in the tree they bought.
"It's always a family choice," J. Fults said. "We try to get it on Black Friday or that Saturday. We let it settle a little bit, then decorate it as a family later that night. We usually take turns hanging ornaments."
Fults said his family is into the natural elements of Christmas, and a live tree is the centerpiece of that.
"We love the tradition of going out and getting your own tree," Fults said.
While the Dillavous picked out a pre-cut tree from the shed, there are some 10 acres of ready trees to be cut down. Dirk Borgman and his family, of Conrad, took the opportunity to hunt for and cut their own tree, even "trying it on" before taking the saw to it. After all, the tree will be the family Christmas card so they had to get the perfect one.
The family has done a live tree for years, but this is the second one from Homestead. Borgman said they usually cut their own, ever since daughter Jay was a toddler at least. Now daughter Elly is part of the selection committee.
"We always go out right after Thanksgiving, take a few pictures and then cut one down," Borgman said. "We have to make sure it's the right one because it's our Christmas card, too."
Wife Sharon is originally from southwest England. The couple started their own tradition of cutting down their own tree before their children arrived. It's something that he grew up doing with his family in his native Pella.
"It's one of those family things," Borgman said. "I cut it down and put it up, and the kids decorate it."