WORTHINGTON, Iowa – Holly Doyle spotted the tree at the top of the hill.
“That’s the one – that bright green one,” she said
Doyle, of Delhi, then led her family, husband Jim, sons Jack, 11, and Owen, 9, and daughter Willa, 4, up the hill to the bright green tree she had spotted today at Rockville Tree Farm, located outside Worthington, Iowa.
“We’ve been coming here for over 10 years,” Holly said. “We love it.”
The Doyles enjoy finding and cutting their own tree on the farm.
“I like the smell, and the use of natural resources,” Holly said. “Nobody has to manufacture our tree.”
The Doyles select a tree annually at the farm, owned and operated by Scott and Lisa Lueken.
“We love the experience,” Holly said. “They always have hot chocolate and cookies here and the kids ride the train.”
A tractor-led train pulled kids around the farm today as parents used handcarts to transport cut trees up to the farm’s sales shed, where Scott Lueken and his nephew, Andy Bockenstedt, of Luxemburg, used a shaker to cast off loose needles before placing the trees through balers for transporting.
“We started in 1998,” Lisa Lueken said of the tree farm, located at 3318 Rockville Road, west of Worthington. “We lived in Dyersville and we wanted some acreage, so we bought 15 acres and the tree farm was (already established). We stumbled upon it.”
The farm now boasts about 2,500 trees and draws customers from a large area.
“We have people from Cedar Rapids and Des Moines,” Lisa said. “If we have any from Des Moines, a lot of times they have family in this area and they want to pick up a tree before they go home. I’d say the majority (of the customers) is from within an hour away.”
The farm’s season begins in October, when customers may visit the farm, walk along the rows of growing trees and tag the ones they wish to purchase.
“I'd say we don’t get busy until November – it’s a big tagging month,” Lisa said. “The weekend before Thanksgiving is a big tagging weekend.”
The Luekens then open the farm’s sales shed the Friday after Thanksgiving.
“We used to be open every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for the last two or three years we went to (being open) just two weekends – this weekend and next weekend,” Lisa said.
That’s when people who have tagged trees can come collect them, or families such as the Doyles can browse among untagged trees.
“This is definitely my favorite time of the year,” Holly said as her family searched before finding their chosen, bright green tree.
The restocking process begins every spring.
“We replant in early April,” Scott Lueken said.
It then takes eight to 10 years for a newly planted tree to mature into a tree suitable for Christmas.
“We’re struggling to get real tall trees because they get cut off before they get that tall,” Scott said.
A few years ago, the Luekens contracted with a tree farm in Wisconsin for a supply of taller, pre-cut trees to supplement their stock.
Joe Hodges, of Manchester, has come to the Luekens’ tree farm for more than 10 years. He collected his family’s Christmas tree today, after having tagged it two weeks ago.
“I want live trees,” Hodges said. “It’s our family tradition. I’m 62 years old and I’ve never had an artificial tree.”