Pioneer Trails Tree Farm offers magical Christmas experience

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Pioneer Trails Tree Farm
Charles Perdulla (left) poses with his mother Mary Jan Perdulla (right). (Hayley Shasteen photo)

POLAND, Ohio — Excited and gleeful voices ring out among the acres of pine, fir and spruce trees at Pioneer Trails Tree Farm in Poland.

“How about this tree? Or this one?”

Families of all sizes gather around potential Christmas trees, some with children being pulled along in sleds pointing at the ones they like best, others with dogs sniffing fallen needles on the ground, just happy to be included in the hunt for the perfect tree. The clip-clop sound of draft horse hooves combined with the drone of tractors pulling wagons loaded with trees ready to be shaped and baled create a symphony of Christmas cheer.

Mary Jan Perdulla, who planted the first trees on the farm with her husband Frank in 1983, doesn’t believe in the “perfect” Christmas tree.

“It’s all about a family being able to enjoy the farm,” she said. “Enjoying the wagon rides and creating memories here (at Pioneer Trails).”

Perfect

Pioneer Trails Tree Farm
The farm offers eight varieties of pine for guests to choose from. (Hayley Shasteen photo)

Adults and children alike might disagree that there is no such thing as a perfect tree as they scour rows and rows of green and blue trees, envisioning them in their living rooms.

The farm at Pioneer Trails sits on 52 acres, with 40 acres in production growing evergreen trees. In 1990, the farm opened up for people to harvest their own Christmas trees. Now, the farm also offers pre-cut trees, alongside a gift shop with winter treats, holiday decorations and handmade wreaths. Perdulla said that the farm is estimated to sell 2,000 trees cut by hand and 800 pre-cut trees this year.

Many families are returning customers like the Saltsman family from Youngstown. This year was their third time visiting the farm, choosing a different variety of evergreen each year. Eight varieties of trees are available, including Austrian Pine, Norway Spruce and Fraser firs, all at varying heights.

Michael Saltsman pulled his daughter, October, in a sled through rows of spruce trees, while his wife, Kiyana, and other daughter, Salinah, followed closely behind. Every few steps would prompt the girls to point to a potential contender, only for Michael to point out something he thought might be a flaw — a lopsided trunk, a few yellow needles, a tree that looked a little too big to fit in the doorway.

“He went to Christmas tree school,” Kiyana joked.

Pioneer Trails Tree Farm
October, Michael, Salinah and Kiyana Saltsman (from left to right) proudly stand in front of the Christmas tree they’ve chosen for their home this year. (Hayley Shasteen photo)

Second generation

Perdulla didn’t go to Christmas tree school per se, but she is a second-generation tree farmer, having learned a lot about the trade from her parents.

“My parents started in about 1955,” she said. “They lived in Cleveland and bought property in Ashtabula County and started planting trees.”

Perdulla’s father was from Indiana, Pennsylvania, which has been named the “Christmas Tree Capital of the World” because people planted and raised Christmas trees on the land after it had been cleared for strip mining. The National Christmas Tree Growers Association was also founded in the city.

Perdulla’s father talked to tree growers in Indiana because he was interested in starting a farm in Ohio. Many farmers balked, telling him that he would never make money selling Christmas trees in Ohio because he would be paying double for the acreage that was available in Pennsylvania.

In 1967, Perdulla’s father began selling his own trees. And with “marketing in his heart,” he figured out that if he offered horse-drawn wagon rides to visitors, he could attract customers to make an hour’s drive to the farm to cut their own Christmas trees.

“He started the tradition to have horse-drawn wagon rides, and at one point he had 12 teams of horses at the farm,” Perdulla said.

Pioneer Trails Tree Farm
Emery Stutzman of West Farmington has been bringing horses to provide wagon rides since 2021. (Hayley Shasteen photo)

Taking time

The tradition of horse-drawn wagon rides continues on Perdulla’s farm, which is 50 miles away from what was once her father’s tree farm. Every year, horse-drawn wagon rides are offered the first and second weekends after Thanksgiving. For the past three years, Emery Stutzman of West Farmington has brought teams of Percheron horses to the farm. Although Pioneer Trails also offers tractor-drawn wagon rides to the trees, Stutzman said that people will gather in long lines to wait for the special horse-drawn wagon ride instead.

“The horses really help to create lasting memories,” Perdulla said. “People ask what the horses’ names are, how old they are. They want to pet the horses and take pictures with them. Emery does a great job sharing his horses with our customers.”

Throughout the day, the horses continue to bring wagonfuls of people to the fields. Some visitors can pick a tree right away, seeming to have the perfect eye for evergreens, while others like the Saltsman family take more time to inspect every tree. What many customers don’t know about the trees they’re sizing up is that they’ve been growing and tended to for many years.

“A lot of the trees are 6 to 10 years old,” Perdulla said. “We’re caring for those trees like you would care for a garden over those years, like fertilizing, trimming and mowing around the trees.”

The trees are also carefully watched for pests and diseases that might harm them, and leading up to the busy holiday season, workers are making sure equipment like tractors and balers are in working order, while others ensure the gift shop is stocked.

So maybe it’s only fair that visitors spend hours finding the perfect tree — after all, some trees have had nearly a decade of work put into them. Perdulla noted that the reason why visitors might not see many 10- to 12-foot trees in the fields to cut themselves is simply because it takes so much time for a tree to grow that tall, with many trees being cut before they can ever reach that height. However, the farm does provide pre-cut trees purchased from other farms that are taller than those in the fields.

The Saltsman family settled for a smaller tree, just a few inches taller than Michael himself. October helped her dad cut the tree, and they both dragged it to the tractor-drawn wagon so that it could be taken to the front of the farm to be shaped and baled. Their tree was just one of many beautiful trees with a rounded bottom and perfectly green needles, and their day at the farm helped to grow their family tradition.

When asked what she liked about the Christmas tree her family had picked out, October simply said, “I love it.”

The Perdulla family is also steeped in generational tradition; Perdulla’s sons Charles and Matthew and her daughter Amy have all had a helping hand in expanding and growing the business, with Charles and Amy now co-running the farm with their parents.

“I’m just blessed that my family is participating in the business and that we’re able to continue to grow Christmas trees as the third generation,” Perdulla said. “We hope that people continue to choose a real tree to support farmers and farming families.”

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