HARTVILLE, Ohio — It is that time of year when families head to the local tree farm, walk up and down the rows to find the perfect tree.
With a short selling season, how do these family-owned operations keep profit margins wide enough to stay open?
One family in Stark County has formed a cooperative to keep the family tree farm alive.
Opened for the 2016 season Nov. 25, the 100-acre Moore’s Tree Farm has been in the family since 1945 when John and Rose Moore purchased it. With the help of their three sons, they raised chickens and beef cattle. John also had an egg route in Akron where he sold eggs and produce door to door.
In 1974, Harold, one of their sons, and his wife, LaVera, purchased the farm and continued to raise grain and cattle. In 1980, they planted the first evergreens and Moore’s Tree Farm was born. The first tree was sold in 1986.
Today, Harold and LaVera’s five children, most of their spouses, and two nephews own the farm in a trust. Jean and Joe Polack are part of the sibling-and-nephew cooperative that now operates the farm. The Polacks live in Kent, but make many trips to the farm in Hartville in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to prepare for the farm’s busy season.
Jean has two brothers in Hartville, and two sisters in Pittsburgh who round out the five siblings. Most of their employees are family members as well. They get a handful of students to work for them after school during November and December, said Jean. The farm will employ 12 people, including family, on a busy day.
Each tree is priced based on breed, height and condition. The price on the tag includes the use of the sleds and saws, as well as having the tree shaken and baled. The tags used by the farm tell them what lot the tree is in, what variety it is, what row and even what number with in the row.
“Our detailed system helps us assist folks who need help cutting it down or bringing the tree in; it just eliminates any confusion,” Joe said.
Many of the machines and tools on the farm were built by Jean’s father Harold, including a tree drill that drills a tapered hole in the bottom of the tree for special tree stands they sell onsite.
The Moores also make and sell fresh evergreen wreaths, swags, centerpieces and roping during the Christmas season,and Harold Moore also built a wreath maker, a pedal-driven tool to clamp metal wires around evergreen branches for efficient wreath making.
Jean’s two sisters, Denise Rudar and Sharon Baling, do most of the wreath making.
“We get much of the greenery from our own trees. If a deer has rubbed up on them or they have a huge gap, we’ll bring it in for wreaths and window swags,” Joe said.
The short, seven-day-a-week sales season is hectic. “When you think about it, we really only have seven or eight days to make our profits, depending on weather. It is usually the weekends leading up to Christmas that we do most of our sales,” Jean said.
Families walk the trees with a tree sled and saw to find that perfect tree for their home, Joe said.
For many, it is a family tradition to come out to the farm and search the lot. Some stay for hours, deciding on that perfect tree.
“Most of our customers prefer to cut their own,” Jean said. “For many, it is a family tradition to come out to the farm and search the lot. Some stay for hours, deciding on that perfect tree.”
Moore’s Tree Farm also brings in a couple hundred pre-cut trees to keep up with the demand.
Frasers are popular and are the variety they specialize in, Jean said. Most most of their 1,500 spring plantings were Fraser firs, with a few other varieties sprinkled in. Trees cover about 20 acres of the 100-acre farm.
The tree farm will have several lots of trees open for purchase, including a bargain lot of trees the Polacks say must go to make room for future plantings.
“Pine trees take 6 to 8 years to grow to a size desirable by most customers, so we are planting and investing in the future each spring,” Jean said.
After her parents sold the farm to the partnership in 1992, it was part of the agreement that so much money had to go to each grandchild for the first 10 years.
“This (the agreement) was my parents’ way of making sure each grandchild got a small share; they were investing in each of their futures,” Jean said.
Moore’s Tree Farm doesn’t do much advertising these days. Several years ago, they built a website, www.moorestreefarm.com, and now find people get the needed information online. They are also located beside Maize Valley Winery and work with the winery to advertise during its many events.
In the off-season, the family is trimming the trees with machetes and shears, mowing and spraying for diseases.
They also work to further educate themselves as members of the Northeast Ohio Christmas Tree Association. The association has meetings four times a year and this is where they network, learn from other growers and see the latest technology in Christmas tree farming
Hostas and lilies
Also in the off season, since 1999, the farm has specialized in daylilies and hostas.
Jean’s brother, Dave Moore and his wife, Sue, went to a conference one year and came back with this idea to help earn profits year-round. They got hooked on hostas and lilies.
“They are addicting,” Joe said. “There are so many colors and varieties.”
A quick count on their sales catalog shows they sell more than 403 varieties of daylilies and several hundred hosta varieties.
The farm is a member of the Ohio Daylily Society and the American Hemerocallis Society and has been designated an official AHS Display Garden since 2006.
In the spring and summer, they sell hostas, lilies and small potted evergreens.
Moore’s Tree Farm will close for the season after Dec. 18.