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Busy season underway for local Christmas tree farmers

A family works to load a large Christmas tree onto a trailer Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, at High Plains Tree Farm north of Grand Rapids. The cut-your-own farm opened for the season the day after Thanksgiving.
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High Plains Tree Farm
A family works to load a large Christmas tree onto a trailer Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, at High Plains Tree Farm north of Grand Rapids. The cut-your-own farm opened for the season the day after Thanksgiving.

Jim Fordham grew up on High Plains Tree Farm, started by his parents 50 years ago. He said he looks forward to reconnecting with customers he’s known for decades when the farm opens.

GRAND RAPIDS — You might be thinking about your Christmas tree for the first time this year.

But for Jim Fordham and his family, caring for the evergreens they raise at High Plains Tree Farm is part of their every day.

"It’s not uncommon to be like camping in July somewhere and put on a sweatshirt and have a handful of pine needles in the hoodie pocket," Fordham said Tuesday, Nov. 21.

Customers laugh in conversation Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, at High Plains Tree Farm north of Grand Rapids.
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High Plains Tree Farm
Customers laugh in conversation Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, at High Plains Tree Farm north of Grand Rapids.

The farm north of Grand Rapids opened for the season Friday, offering a cut-your-own experience along with a bonfire, holiday goodies and handmade wreaths.

Fordham grew up on the farm his parents started 50 years ago and said he looks forward to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season while reconnecting with customers he’s known for decades.

"I like to be on the farm where it's quiet, you know, by myself. And you can hear the loons on the lake and the birds and — that's where I really love to be," he said.

"But it is fun come this weekend and the place is packed and busy. I do get a kick out of that."

It's been a tough year in the midst of a drought. Fordham lost all 4,000 seedlings he planted this spring, an impact that will reverberate into the future. It takes eight to 10 years for a tree to reach a marketable size.

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High Plains Tree Farm owner Jim Fordham runs a Christmas tree through a machine to bale
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High Plains Tree Farm
High Plains Tree Farm owner Jim Fordham runs a Christmas tree through a baling machine Friday, Nov, 24, 2023, to make it easier to transport.

"When you have drought years like this, where everything gets wiped out, it's like that sets you back an entire year. It's not something we can recoup immediately next year. You know, it's going to hurt," he said.

The number of cut-your-own tree farms in the state is dwindling, and Fordham said he sees people traveling 100 miles or more to shop.

Handmade wreaths are on display Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, at High Plains Tree Farm north of Grand Rapids.
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High Plains Tree Farm
Handmade wreaths are on display Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, at High Plains Tree Farm north of Grand Rapids.

But Fordham said there are still plenty of trees to choose from at High Plains, and he and his wife Sarah are continuing to add to the holiday experience as a hobby on top of their full-time jobs.

"Right now, the market's definitely there," he said. "It's definitely people looking for real trees People want the experience, take the family out and spend a couple hours walking around, so we're excited for the future."

Find High Plains Tree Farm on Facebook for hours and more information.

Chelsey Perkins spent the first 15 years of her journalism career as a print journalist, primarily as a newspaper reporter and editor. In February 2023, she accepted a role as News Director of KAXE in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where she's building a new local newsroom at the station.