For many families, the Christmas season doesn’t begin until the tree is decorated. Walking in the crisp, cool air – sometimes through a foot of snow – to select the perfect tree can be a fun family adventure, especially if you cut your own at a Christmas tree farm.
At Hungry for Truth we love exploring South Dakota agriculture. We stopped by one of our local favorites, the Riverview Christmas Tree Farm near Canton, to enjoy a glass of warm cider and learn how owners Todd and Shari Gannon care for more than 15,000 fir, pine and spruce trees so they’re ready for the holidays.
Seed Sales to Tree Sales
Todd grew up on a farm and owns a business that sells soybean and corn seeds so he has experience growing safe and healthy crops. Every year, he rents 40 acres of land to test new soybean and corn varieties to see how they grow. Since many of the seeds are GMO varieties, he can use fewer pesticides to protect them.
Like most South Dakota family farms, the responsible use of pesticides is also a priority for Todd. Not just because of the people who buy them, but because of those who work for him. By the time trees are sold, they have been growing for 13-15 years old and touched by human hands more than touched 50 times.
Christmas Tree Care
That level of hands-on care and attention to safety is worth it when you find the right Christmas tree for your home. Let’s explore how the trees get from pint size to perfection.
It all starts in the spring when Todd and his family plant about 3,000 new trees. It takes a crew of 10 four days to plant approximately 1,000 by hand and 2,000 with the help of a mechanical planter. They hand trim the roots and tops before placing the trees in the ground. Once in place, the trees are straightened and coated with wax.
- Weed, Pest & Erosion Control
After planting, Todd gets to work controlling weeds and pests. Just like many soybean farmers in South Dakota, he uses chemicals that are safe for the trees to protect them from insects like twig aphids. He also uses Round Up to deal with weeds, but shields the trees so they’re safe.
Mixing pesticides correctly, using just the right amount of spray and applying it in early spring ensures the trees are safe to touch by the time trimming starts in June. Todd also plants a grass mixture down the center of the tree rows to prevent soil erosion and provide walking paths for employees and customers.
- Trimming & Shearing
In June, his family and members of the local FFA arrive to help him trim all of the trees. At the same time, Todd and a few trained employees shear the sides of the trees to give them their triangle shape. This can be done by hand with machetes or with electric trimmers. Either way, they use safety equipment and go slow to avoid injuries. This typically wraps up in August.
- Pulling Stumps
Once the trimming is complete, Todd pulls the stumps from the trees cut during the previous Christmas and tills the soil so it can rest during the winter and is ready for planting in the spring.
- Tagging, Selling
In the fall, Todd and crew price and hand tag 2,000 trees for sale. They leave the rest to grow for a future season. The gates open for sales the weekend before Thanksgiving and continue for four weekends. All tagged trees are sold, shaken, netted and make their way to a new home by the time they close for Christmas.
Spreading Christmas Magic
For Todd and Shari, all the effort that goes into operating the tree farm is well worth it. They get to enjoy time with their boys outdoors and spread the magic of Christmas to many South Dakota families.
“Opening day is my absolute favorite because I see all our hard work pay off. I spend a lot of time by myself working late hours, and it can get lonely. It’s worth it when we open the gates and see families excited to cut their trees,” said Todd. Santa is there to greet everyone as well as farm animals in the petting zoo.
The magic of Christmas is something he fell in love with as a child. “My friends call me Clark Griswold. I’m that guy with his house all lit up and covered with decorations,” said Todd. “I got the bug from my mom. We didn’t have much growing up, but my mom always made sure we felt special at Christmas. I love sharing that joy with others.”
Whether they’re growing Christmas trees or soybeans, South Dakota farmers do their best to grow safe and healthy crops. Learn more about how farmers hustle for healthy crops 365 days a year.