Since he was a boy in the 1950s, David Hansen has watched several generations of trees come and go at the Hansen Tree Farm in Ramsey.

"A lot of people don't think a forest changes," but after working in the fields, harvesting Christmas trees and replacing them, he said, "you see how quickly it does."

The older he gets, the more the cycle seems to speed up.

This year, the family-owned farm turned 60. It's one of the oldest Christmas tree farms in the state.

As a testimony to the different eras at the farm, 50-foot pines dating back to the original planting dwarf newer pines, firs and spruces.

David Hansen's parents, Henry and Charlotte Hansen, along with his grandfather Harry Lindquist, started the 40-acre farm in 1952, the same year he was born. Charlotte is now 98.

Henry, who was a forestry professor, drew inspiration from the tree plantations he'd seen in Europe and in the Eastern United States. Before that, Christmas trees came from the wild, David Hansen explained.

In the beginning, the farm sold trees to florists and local tree stands, but it wasn't long before the "cut-your-own-tree" trend came along.

When he was old enough to help, David Hansen greeted customers, passed out saws and collected cash from the sale of trees, which went for $3 in those days.

Mark Hansen also pitched in, while their older brother Trygg Hansen sheared or shaped the trees.

Back then, it was a barebones operation, with no barn or power tools. They worked out of the family car.

When David Hansen took in cash, he stashed the money in the car. "I remember my mom telling me to make sure nobody can steal it, and to put some of it under the seat," he said.

Extra source of income

Their parents hoped the hobby farm would someday pay for college for their three sons. They hadn't anticipated that their grandchildren would also reap the benefits from the farm.

David and Mark Hansen took over the farm in 1982, after taking a break from the business in the 1970s. By then, Trygg lived too far away to pitch in, David Hansen said.

Collectively, the Hansens' children, other relatives and neighbors helped them pick up where they left off.

In recent years, an irrigation system has been their saving grace amid drought. His mom loaned them the money to install it.

But the farm, which isn't exactly a cash cow, is much more than an extra source of income.

After a half-hour drive from his home in St. Paul, "All of a sudden, you're out of the city. It's like being at the cabin up north," with eagles, turtles, deer and more, he said. "It doesn't matter what you left behind -- the computer, Internet, bills -- it's great."

A family-oriented farm

Mark's son, Kip, has done everything from planting trees to cooking a recipe his great-grandfather Harry made for guests.

He says the training and memories are priceless. "It has taught me about business and life," Kip Hansen said, adding that he appreciates "how family-oriented we are as a farm."

Part of the fun is seeing the customers stop in year after year -- including several generations within some families.

Also, he never tires of Christmas trees. When he was young, he even had small trees set up in his bedroom, he said, adding that he prefers the un-sheared "natural" trees that thrive under the older trees.

Hanover resident Glen Albert, who started coming to the farm with his wife, Sandy, a dozen years ago, said the Hansens keep them coming back through "a smile" and "a sense of belonging," he said.

The farm experience goes way beyond just getting a tree. "It's the start to our celebration of Christmas," Albert said, adding that it also coincides with their wedding anniversary. "We look forward to it every year."

Photos from their trips to the farm are displayed in their "Christmas room," or the decked-out spare bedroom.

After the holiday season, they prop up the tree outside with lights. It stays up all winter and then becomes firewood. "It warms us all spring and fall," he said.

Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelancer.