Even in the whirlwind of the holiday season, plenty of people refuse to forgo the pleasure of driving to a farm where they can cut down their own Colorado spruce or Frasier fir.
According to Donna Revak of Revak Nursery in Lakeville, for many families, "It's really important to go out as a family and pick out your own and cut it down."
She and her husband, Dale, have been selling cut-your-own trees from their Lakeville nursery since 1991, and like a lot of tree farms in or near Dakota County, their work is a family affair.
"It's an industry that has a lot of small growers of 10 acres or less," she said. "It's a very personal kind of transaction. I think that's why a lot of people like to go to a cut-your-own farm. You're tapping into the tradition of the farm you're going to."
Revak's kids help out. Even after one son moved out to New York to work as an architect, he flew back for the first few years to work on the farm during the busy season before the holidays. "With a lot of growers it's that kind of situation. It's a husband and wife. It's kids."
Will Almendinger, owner of Hampton Hills Tree Farm in Randolph, also heads a family operation, though his has grown quite a bit. More than 45 years ago he started a tree lot on a street corner to put himself through college. Now, he said, his 140-acre farm is the largest one south of the Twin Cities.
"We see 800 cars a day," he said, and the people who cut their own are "just a group that loves to get out. We used to say it's a granola crowd."
On certain weekends, Hampton Hills hosts hayrides and visits from Santa, and, Almendinger said, people will sometimes pack a picnic lunch to make it an all-day affair. A large section of their farm runs along native prairie, and weather permitting, they let people drive up a nearby bluff where "it's very scenic," he said.
On Revak's farm they host visits from Santa, fire up a warming tent, sell concessions and give kids rides on a kiddie train. A holiday shop stocks thousands of holiday ornaments, with a large selection of mouth blown and hand-painted glass ornaments from the Czech Republic and Poland, which Revak likes to call "affordable miniature art pieces."
Revak is a member of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Association and its "Go Green, Get Real" campaign, which encourages people to consider the environmental benefits of buying real Christmas trees. She regularly talks to schoolchildren about how the farms are sustainable — they plant new trees for the ones they cut down — and how trees provide animal habitat and change carbon dioxide to oxygen.
She said people should consider buying a real tree "if you are concerned about the health of the planet and the people on it."
Here are Revak's tips for tree shopping and chopping your own tree:
• Dress for the weather.
• Bring a sled. Dragging the tree on the bare ground, especially when there is no snow, can damage the tree.
• Cut the stump again once you get home. "A fresh cut is really important," she said. "A tree is a living thing, and the sap acts like the blood in a human body."
• Put it in a tree stand that holds at least a gallon of water. Revak said that freshly cut trees will drink a gallon of water a day.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.