Christmas tree farm keeps real-tree traditionDecember 10, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
CRYSTAL — Surrounded by the needly symbol of Christmas, the Kress family searched through the Scherle Tree Farm for their perfect match on Saturday.
For many like the Kresses, chopping down an evergreen at the Crystal farm is a tradition as important as stringing lights on roofs or baking cookies to Bing Crosby.
While Christmas tree farms close across the state, the Scherles are pushing ahead. Financially, all is well, and trees are being planted on the grounds for the future.
But due to a drought that killed off a big chunk of the farm’s stock at the beginning of the decade, temporary changes will come to the Scherles’ business model in 2020.
The popular, local farm will still sell various types of pre-cut trees, wreaths and greenery next year. But it will not offer a choose-and-cut option for trees smaller than eight feet tall.
“While it is not easy to pause this tradition, after losing trees to a drought in 2011 and 2012 and [experiencing an] influx of new customers from area farms that have closed, we no longer have the selection of trees that we would be proud to offer you,” reads a little flier distributed to customers. During the course of those two years, Don and Eileen Scherle’s farm lost more than 10,000 trees.
Thousands more are now taking root and preparing to reach to the sky. But they’re just too small. So, Frasier fir, Scotch pine trees and white pines will be shipped to the farm next holiday season to fill the void.
Like many farms across the region, the fields just won’t have suitable trees.
“We’ve been doing this since ’74,” Don said, “and we’ve never had this situation.”
Don said in an interview it is possible that trees could be cut next year depending on their growth, but explained it’s also “very doubtful.” It’s more likely that two years from now, trees could be cut again.
Once a future Christmas tree grows taller than three feet, it’s “pretty much got it made, except maybe for a disease problem or a deer problem,” Don said. Seedlings are vulnerable in the first two to three years of their lives, and that two-year drought cleared off thousands of young trees at the Scherles’ farm.
According to a study led by an associate professor in the Indiana University O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana has experienced a 40% decrease in Christmas tree farms since 2002. Despite consumer demand, that study found the decline will likely continue.
The Scherles have felt its effects at their sprawling business. French Lick and Fulda-area farms have closed. Several in Bedford have ceased operations, too.
“We have so many repeat customers, it’s unbelievable,” Don, 74, said. “And then with the influx of all the new customers, we’re just in a bind.”
It’s an interesting problem to have, because Don hopes they return next year, even though cutting will be off the table. After hearing the farm’s situation, Don said new customers have said they will return anyway. They want to come back for the real-tree experience.
When the Scherles were in the wholesale industry and shipped evergreens across the country, the farm hosted more than 100,000 trees. Their business model shifted to onsite sales, and that number has now dropped to about 7,500. The couple also has a tree lot near their home, which is located on Division Road in Jasper, that hosts a couple hundred trees.
Some people have bought their Christmas trees from Don and Eileen for decades. They bring their coolers and grills to the charming property entrance and gather for festive tailgates. Children are given candy canes, and Eileen bakes thousands of sugar cookies each year to pass out to the farm’s guests
Like many of its longtime customers, Maggie Weisman of Holland has been coming to the farm for about 30 years. She loves the smell and feel of real Christmas trees so much that she’s never had an artificial one in her home.
Weisman started visiting the Scherles with her family as a child after relocating from Oregon, and once she started her own family, she knew it would be important to continue the tradition.
“Once you start something like this, it’s hard to stop,” Weisman said. “Plus, they’re (the Scherles) so awesome to come and see. We love to see the Scherles.”
They hope to see you again next holiday season, too.
Correction: Due to a reporter’s error, this story previously misidentified Scherle’s Tree Farm as the lone Christmas tree farm in Dubois County. Weyer Tree Farm operates in Ferdinand and is selling trees by appointment this season. They can be reached at 812-367-1097. The story has been updated.
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