Phil Pursley drove about 40 miles to cut down his Christmas tree at the Tammen Treeberry Farm outside Braidwood, but as he said, “This is a little closer than Wisconsin.”
Pursley lives in Park Forest and was making his first visit to the Tammen Treeberry Farm this week. He usually goes to Wisconsin for his Christmas tree.
“It’s a tradition,” he said. “We lived on a farm up there and cut our own.”
Many people still make it a tradition to cut down their own pine or fir to set up as the family Christmas tree. But the tradition does not appear to be growing, said Bruce Tammen, whose father started the Tammen Treeberry Farm in 1956.
The late Lorenz Tammen bought farmland in Custer Township before discovering it was too sandy for corn and soybeans.
“This farm,” Bruce Tammen said, “about a third of it is blow sand. He started Christmas trees here.”
Tammen said the cut-your-own Christmas tree business has appeared to plateau with the population aging. The main market is families with children, he said. Now, many of the parents who brought kids to the tree farm have become grandparents who travel during the holidays and don’t even put up a tree.
Still, it’s not unusual to see customers from as far away as Park Forest and other parts of the Chicago region.
“We have customers from as far south as Champaign,” Tammen said.
Will County has at least four Christmas tree farms, although one – Bengtson’s Christmas Tree Farm – is closed this season because of a tree shortage. It is expected to reopen for the holidays next year.
It takes six to 10 years to grow a pine tree, Tammen said. A fir tree can take as long as 15 years before it’s ready to become a Christmas tree.
Anderson Tree Farm in Plainfield is still trying to replenish its stock after losing trees in a drought near the end of the recession after already cutting back on plantings because of the economy.
Karen Anderson said her biggest problem is providing enough trees for the customers she has.
“If we had more trees, we’d be busier than a bed bug out here,” Anderson said.
The Anderson Tree Farm was selling about 2,000 Christmas trees a season in the pre-recession years.
“We could almost do that again if we had the trees,” Anderson said.
The Andersons, meanwhile, enhance the customer experience with free cocoa, popcorn and hay rack rides out to the field during the weekends. The farm employees even cut the trees down for customers if they prefer and haul them from the field.
“We bale it. We shake it. And, we put it on top of the car,” Anderson said.
Andrew Jones, owner of the Green Garden Christmas Tree Farm near Frankfort, said the cut-your-own Christmas tree experience doesn’t seem to fit with the busy lifestyle many people lead today.
“The live Christmas tree is mainly an all-day affair and is slowly losing its appeal to the younger generation,” Jones said.
But those who make the effort find it worthwhile, he said.
“People who do come out enjoy the day,” Jones said. “It’s a happy group of people, and it’s a wonderful time.”
Green Garden Christmas Tree Farm is 9 miles south of Frankfort, which for many of his city and suburban customers “can feel like you’re in northern Michigan or Wisconsin,” Jones said. “People enjoy coming out.”