Making holiday memories

Nancy and Lee Walker started a Christmas tree farm so they could to retire to the ‘good life’

0
327
Walker Tree Farm
Leland and Nancy Walker own and operate Walker Tree Farm in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. They planted their first trees in 2001 and made their first sale in 2007. Today they sale around 150 trees a year. (Katy Mumaw photos)

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — Leland and Nancy Walker were planning for retirement long before their last day of work.

In 2001, they planted 500 Christmas trees — 50 seedlings each of 10 varieties — at their Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, farm. The next year, they planted 1,000 trees. They sold their first trees in 2007.

Neither of them grew up farming, but agreed operating a Christmas tree farm in retirement would be living the “good life.”

Leland Walker, now 71, taught English at Mohawk Schools for 37 years before retiring in 2006. Nancy, 63, still works part-time as an intensive care nurse at Mercy Health St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital in downtown Youngstown.

Walker Tree Farm
Lee Walker is the seventh generation to farm the land. It was a dairy for many years, he started a Christmas tree farm in 2001. (Katy Mumaw photo)

Leland grew up near the farm, which was then a dairy operated by his Uncle Dale. He did a lot of reading and research about trees and tree care before jumping in and planting the first round of seedlings. They make the 12-mile trip to the farm daily from their home in Poland, Ohio.

Preserving history

The Walkers are interested in preserving the history and structures on the farm. Though they don’t live there, they have converted the old farmhouse into a duplex they now rent, and they have resided the 1800s barn, keeping all the original interior beams.

They were told that a log cabin was the first structure on the land seven generations ago, and so to honor the family’s history, they built a cabin to use as their gift shop.

“The family story, that has been passed down, is that the first settlers on this land built a log cabin by a little stream and two willow trees,” said Nancy.

Today the stream is right behind their gift shop and one of the willow trees still stands.

Trees

They are in the process of dividing the land with a sibling, but when that is finalized, they will own 40 acres. Of that, eight acres are in Christmas trees.

“Fir trees are slower growing; it takes them eight to 10 years to grow to be 6 to 8 feet tall,” said Leland, who sells about 150 trees a year. “Scotch and Eastern White pines take about five to seven years to reach the same height.”

Tree seedlings cost $1 to $1.95 depending on the variety, size and age of the tree, he said. Trees at Walker Tree Farm are $6 a foot, no matter how many feet you want.

Walker Tree Farm
Leland Walker breaks and smells a pine tree branch at his Lawrence County, Pa. farm. He can describe each variety’s scent. (Katy Mumaw photo)

“When we first started, the trend was Blue Spruce, but now the firs are the most popular,” Lee said. “Fraser, Canaan, Concolor — that is what we sell the most of now.”

Scotch pines grow faster, making them cheaper, but they aren’t as popular, he said.

“We watch the trends and just have to plant what is popular now, hoping that when the trees are ready, down the road, we’ll have what they [customers] want,” he said.

The week before Thanksgiving, they sold an 18-foot tree to a neighboring township. That sale put them in the holiday spirit, knowing so many would see and enjoy the tree, they said.

The trees that don’t sell and become overgrown are used for the pine roping and wreaths.

Since the Walkers have been in the tree business, they have had a stroke of luck with other tree farms or tree sales in the area going out of business or switching fundraisers. By word of mouth, they have also earned a lot of customers.

Crafty

They repurpose a lot of the old barn’s materials into crafts and gifts, using the old slate from the barn’s original roof and old siding for picture frames, wall hangings and wooden baskets they sell in the gift shop.

These and other handmade items fill the log cabin store.

“We repurpose and reuse so much from the farm. We don’t want to fill up landfills and we try to share that spirit with others,” she said.

Walker Tree Farm
Nancy Walker uses old barn siding and slate to make crafts and baskets she sells in their gift shop. (Katy Mumaw photo)

Nancy, an avid sewer, learned to sew from a friend’s mom when she was 10, and she opened a gift shop in New Middletown, Ohio, in 2003 and was a vendor at Shaker Height’s August craft show for 11 years. Today, she still makes the crafts, but sells them exclusively from their shop.

“I pace myself throughout the year,” she said. “Once January comes and things slow down, I’ll pull out my sewing stuff and start making and prepping for the next year.”

They sell live and artificial wreaths, swags and pine rope all made right there are the farm. They use the upper part of the barn as workshop area, where they have pine-rope and wreath-making stations.

They also sell log furniture, rustic decorations and log cabins from the shop.

Family focus

“We are trying to created a family-oriented place, where kids put away electronics and make memories,” Nancy said.

Each year, they have added something new to what they offer at the farm, this year it was photo sessions around the farm with a professional photographer.

They have purchased a 1800s replica sleigh for sleigh rides and picture opportunities and hope to work with a local horse owner to make rides available. The sleigh also has wheels, so they won’t have to wait on Mother Nature to cooperate.

“My parents took us every year to cut down a tree. It is a wonderful memory,” Nancy said. “I hope we are creating Christmas memories for other families; family bonds and memories kids will have for a long, long time — I enjoy that.”

Last year, they had a family with a little boy and a very pregnant mom; this year, the family returned with both children, she said, adding they enjoy seeing these families grow and being part of their traditions.

Walker Farm is open all year-round featuring strawberries and blackberries in the summer, and has Christmas crafts and decorations available year-round.

Walker Tree Farm
Walker Tree Farm is located at 692 Mount Jackson Road
New Castle, PA 16102
330-727-9342
Holiday hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
www.walkerfarmpa.com.

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY

We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.