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Christmas tree farmer grew into business at grandfather’s side

Jeffrey Jurek learned the tree farm business from his grandfather Frank Jurek Sr., who started planting Scotch pines behind his house in East Amherst in 1929. Four years ago, Jurek officially took over operations of Jurek Plantations, including the 500-acre tree farm in Franklinville and sales locations in East Amherst, Clarence and Akron.

The Jurek tree farm requires planting in spring, pruning in summer and a three-day harvest blitz in November. Jurek lists his best-sellers as firs – Fraser and Douglas – but he also sells Colorado blue spruce and the citrus smelling Concolor fir. Austrian and white pines are available to cut yourself.

Jurek, 34, lives in Getzville. He works full time as a physician’s assistant in the emergency room at Erie County Medical Center.

People Talk: How did you wind up in the tree business?

Jeffrey Jurek: I didn’t have much of a choice. I was able to work with my grandfather very closely all through high school. When I’m here I feel like he’s still part of it. Working with him year after year, I just fell in love with the Christmas tree business.

PT: Describe your grandfather.

JJ: Well, he certainly was patriarch of the family. He was very smart and very strong. He started planting trees through 4-H. I always remember him telling stories how he used to hunt pheasant on Transit Road. When he got older the first thing he did was buy property, turn it around and then sell it. He kept flipping properties until he got his hands on something valuable. That was the big one, where Canterbury Woods is today.

PT: How long does a tree take to mature?

JJ: It varies by species, seven to 10 years for a fir. If you get into some of the spruces, 12 to 15 years. That’s what is tough about Christmas trees. It’s not like corn. You can’t plant in spring and harvest in fall. You plant a Christmas tree and it’s a 10-year investment – at least.

PT: Blue spruce appears to be fading in popularity.

JJ: It’s certainly not as popular as the firs. A lot of people don’t like them because of how prickly they are. But they’re good if you have pets because pets don’t like to disturb them, and they hold their needles well. The pines – white and Austrian – lose their needles really fast. We only have those if you cut your own. We cut our trees the week before Thanksgiving by chain saw, one by one.

PT: In growing a tree, what is the most critical stage?

JJ: The first three years. The first year the seedling is just trying to adjust to the soil it just got pushed into. The next couple of years are spent just trying to get over that weed line because it’s not getting the kind of air and sunlight that the larger trees are getting. So when we prune the larger trees in summer, we’ll go to the younger ones and hack the weeds and grass. It’s very time-consuming and hot. We prune in July and August, and it’s fortunate we are in Franklinville and the farm is in the mountains.

PT: Tree farming sounds laborious.

JJ: Without a doubt. We’ve gotten more efficient throughout the years. Harvest by far is one of the most incredible scenes. We have 16 guys and it takes three to four days. We put four guys on chain saws. Three or four more guys drag the tagged trees to the baler before they’re loaded – 20 at a time – on a tractor for transport to a staging area at the top of the hill. A conveyer takes them to box vans for transport.

PT: At what rate do you replace your stock?

JJ: For every tree we cut down we plant two or maybe even three. Nationally, there’s been a small decline in tree sales, but we haven’t seen it in our area.

PT: Why don’t some trees take water?

JJ: After a tree is cut, it enters a self-preservation state releasing sap to make a hard seal at the bottom to keep nutrients from escaping. That’s the whole purpose of a fresh cut. That’s why you should put your tree in water immediately when you get home to make sure that first set of water gets up and into the tree. If by chance you’re not getting it into water right away, I recommend boiling water in the tree stand to melt the sap.

PT: Would you consider buying an artificial tree?

JJ: Never. I think my grandfather would roll over. I’m very pro green. I’m a recycler. I’ve read they spray artificial trees with formaldehyde. The average person who buys an artificial tree keeps if for six to seven years. Then it is buried in a landfill. I believe it’s 1,000 years until that tree is disintegrated. One acre of Christmas trees supplies oxygen to 16 people daily.