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Local tree farms expecting business as usual, hope to build family traditions

Past droughts not affecting area crop

Mike Vandenbosch of Solon helps carry a tree for wrapping before being transported home at Handley’s Holiday Hillside tree farm near Solon, IA on Saturday morning, November 24, 2018. With a good turnout on Friday and warm, sunny weather on Saturday, Handley’s farm was busy with folks from across the area searching for the perfect tree for the Christmas holiday season. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
Mike Vandenbosch of Solon helps carry a tree for wrapping before being transported home at Handley’s Holiday Hillside tree farm near Solon, IA on Saturday morning, November 24, 2018. With a good turnout on Friday and warm, sunny weather on Saturday, Handley’s farm was busy with folks from across the area searching for the perfect tree for the Christmas holiday season. (Ben Roberts/Freelance)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Christmas enthusiasts are no longer on pins and needles waiting to pick their perfect tree.

A number of growers in Eastern Iowa opened with a busy Friday to start their Christmas season. Some area tree farms are reporting a healthy stock and expecting to sell out before the holiday.

Mark Banowetz and his wife, Kathleen, are in their second year of owning Cedar’s Edge Evergreen Market in Ely. He said the farm will try to stay open as long as possible, hoping to extend the season with offerings like a Christmas gift store, custom wreaths and the option of buying tall trees.

Banowetz said his farm had a shortage of trees last year, partly attributed to drought. While none of Iowa is currently in a drought stage, one tree farm in the Quad Cities had to close this season because what would have been this year’s stock was wiped out in a 2012 drought, according to the Quad City Times.

But area Christmas tree farms, like Banowetz’s, seem unaffected by past drought issues this year. Dan Hoffman, co-owner of Hoffman Tree Farm with his wife, Deb, said their Marion farm hasn’t been hurt by drought and they expect to be open at least three weeks.

Margaret Handley, co-owner of Handley’s Holiday Hillside in Solon, said her farm has seen increased sales in recent years, and she expects to sell the usual 600 to 700 trees this season, which lasts about three full weekends.

“It depends on where in the state of Iowa. We had no problem this year at all. It just depends because I know there were dry areas in the state, but it didn’t affect our area at all,” Handley said.

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Banowetz said he was surprised by the overwhelming customer turnout last year. Both Banowetz and Handley credit the sales to people wanting to create family traditions.

“What’s actually pretty neat is to see people come out. ... We’re getting a lot of younger married couples for their first Christmas,” Banowetz said. “I think it’s a tradition thing people are starting to get into. They want that experience.”

Hoffman said his customers range from young families to empty-nesters, and he saw an uptick in sales last year.

“Last year we’ve sold quite a few more than the last four or five years,” Hoffman said, adding that sometimes families switch between real and artificial trees. “We do talk to people that say ‘Hey we’re going to try a real tree this year.’”

Martin and Hannah Jennings, of Iowa City, were shopping Friday at Cedar’s Edge Evergreen Market for their Christmas tree with daughters Vivian, 3, and Natalie, 1. They have always gotten real trees, Martin Jennings said, because they like the scent.

“It’s just something you can look forward to each year,” he said, having just cut a fresh 6½-foot tree and strapped it on the top of the family’s red mini van. “It’s something my kids I think enjoy, too.”

Sarah and Matt Musal, of Ely, were sharing a similar experience Friday at Cedar’s Edge. Both grew up celebrating Christmas with real trees but switched to artificial before having children of their own. Sarah Musal said some of her best childhood memories are of picking out and cutting down Christmas trees with her family.

“This kind of forces us to come out and do it together, whereas artificial, I kind of just grabbed it out of the box,” she said while choosing a fraser fir with sons Luke, 3, and Levi, 1. “It’s kind of nice to make it more of a memory and more of an experience.”

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Handley said her farm is now seeing a third generation of families picking out trees from when it was started.

“This is going to be our 42nd year selling Christmas trees, so we’ve got a few years behind us,” she said. “We’re hoping that we’re building family traditions. And what is a more important day than Christmas to have traditions?”

• Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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