By LIAM JACKSON
Capital News Service
LANSING – Christmas trees are in Levi Dutcher’s blood.
His parents planted 2,000 while his mother was pregnant with him in 1988. Now, he is preparing for his first holiday season as the owner of a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm.
“It takes a lot of work and a lot of money to make a little bit of money in the end,” said Dutcher, of Old Grove Christmas Tree Farm in Caledonia. “But it’s definitely a lot of fun.”
Dutcher is one of nearly 500 Michigan Christmas tree farm owners benefiting this year from an exceptional growing season.
“It was pretty much the consensus of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association board that it was the best year they’ve had for growing in a long time,” said Amy Start, the executive director of the group that promotes Christmas tree farms.
Dutchman Tree Farms near Cadillac benefited from ideal weather conditions in northern Michigan.
“We had decent moisture throughout the summer and did not have any late-season frosts,” said Scott Powell, the nursery manager of Dutchman in Manton and president of the association.
A good growing season is a good sign, but when it comes to actually selling the trees, other factors come into play.
“Usually what affects the selling season is good weather,” Start said.
“A little bit of snow for atmosphere is always lovely,” she said. “But if not, we at least hope it’s not raining. Because nobody wants to go to a farm when it’s downpouring or muddy.”
Michigan is third in the nation for Christmas tree production, according to the tree grower group. Each year the state supplies 2 million trees nationally.
Choose-and-cut farms appeal to younger families who want to “make a day of it,” Start said.
“They feel as if it’s the freshest way to get a tree,” she said. “Because it is. You are cutting it down yourself.”
That experience is the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of work for the farmer. It takes Christmas trees seven to 10 years before they are ready to cut.
Each growing season is critical and has lasting impacts for farmers beyond hat. Drought during one season can delay growth, Start said.
“It takes a lot of work and a lot of care to get them to the full size to sell so the growers are really, really diligent about those trees,” she said
Some new choose-and-cut farms are set to open to the public this year, but an opening is the completion of a project started long before – sometimes several decades.
Dutcher is opening his choose-and-cut farm this year, seven years after the trees were planted.
The events that led to the grand opening began before Dutcher was born. The 2,000 trees his mother helped plant in 1988 were nearly all wiped out by a drought.
When Dutcher was 8 years old, his parents sold trees for one year. They never did it again.
“During that season I thought ‘Wow this is a lot of fun,’” Dutcher said. “The whole family was hanging out. I didn’t come from a lot of money, so anytime someone came up to buy a $20 tree, it was really exciting.”
About 20 years later, Dutcher bought property in Caledonia. His sister-in-law recommended planting Christmas trees so the family could gather each year and cut their own.
Dutcher took the idea one step further and planted 1,000 trees.
“It was a mixture of me remembering all the good times we had the one year my parents sold trees and my sister-in-law’s suggestion,” Dutcher said. “That’s how we’ve arrived at this.”
Dutcher’s family will still bond over the farm, including his aunt, who will fly from Oregon to help out.
Christmas tree farmers find other ways to make ends meet while the trees grow.
Photo ops with Santa and a firepit to roast marshmallows are ways that Creekside Christmas Trees in Port Austin attract local residents during the Christmas season.
Creekside owner Lisa Szymanski planted trees two years ago. She anticipates that the choose-and-cut portion of the farm will open in 2027.
“We are doing things on the retail side to keep us relevant and keep people in the area knowing that we are here and getting in the habit of coming,” Szymanski said.