What do you look at when you go buy a Christmas tree? Glance around Country Pines Christmas tree farm on Humphrey Hills Road in Holland and you'll see 50 acres of nine different species of evergreen trees.
Who is behind all this? What is it like to run a Christmas tree farm? You may think that this kind of thing would be easy, but in reality, it is the total opposite.
Country Pines is run by Ray and Ann Zywiczynski and their three adult sons. There is a lot of work to be done not only at Christmas time, but all year-round. The grass must be cut, the trees must be trimmed, and then cut.
The trees are bought and planted when they are still small. It takes seven to 30 years for them to grow (depending on the species). The trees need good soil, proper temperatures, and enough rain. Although the Zywiczynskis say this was a good year, most tree growers are lucky to harvest 60 percent of their original crop due to disease and lack of sunlight.
At Country Pines, families have the choice of firs, spruces, and pines. They also have the option of cutting their own tree with a provided saw, or just taking a pre-cut tree.
The 100 acres of land was a dairy farm brought into the Zywiczynski family in the late 1940s, but it wasn't turned into a tree farm until 1987. "We always liked trees," says Ann Zywiczynski, a sixth grade teacher at Holland Middle School. "We had to do something with (the land)." Their idea of growing trees has grown since then.
"It just snowballed into what it is now," she said. Planting 5,000 to 6,000 trees every year, and making people-friendly additions like a tree bundler (which was made by one of their sons), sleds, and saws, have made Country Pines "one of Western New York's best kept secrets."
"You must sell a quality tree so people will come back year after year," said Ray Zywiczynski. Growers must control the number of trees that are grown and harvested. They must keep some trees in reserve so they don't run out next year.
Inside the craft shop that used to be a 19th century barn, there is a large wood burner to keep the place toasty. Free hot chocolate, coffee and popcorn is offered to thaw people from winter temperatures. Most of the crafts and gifts are handmade by family and friends.
The Zywiczynskis say if people don't find the tree they want at Country Pines, they will send them down the road to a different tree farm. This is helpful because they have people coming from as far as Olcott, Silver Creek and Amherst.
"(Country Pines) has every kind of Christmas tree we like; big ones, small ones, fat ones," said Frank Fazio, 13, of Orchard Park Middle School.
The Salonuk family bundled up and traveled 40 miles from Grand Island just to cut down their own tree. "I like it because there is such a variety," said Kevin Salonuk, a fifth-grader at Kaegebein Elementary.
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Country Pines Farm will be open for its last weekend this Saturday and Sunday although some people show up to buy trees on Christmas Eve.
Emilee Lindner is a sophomore at Holland Central.