Ann Harmon uses a mallet to bend a wreath into place. She carefully selects each branch before bringing it back to the worktable, placing it on a metal ring and securing it in place with a few strong hits. She sports a shiny Christmas tree pin on her baseball cap. The fields around her are dotted with Christmas trees.
“We’ve got everything out there,” Harmon says, “from the perfect tree to the Charlie Brown tree.”
Harmon and her husband, Wayne, own and run Starr Pines, a 200-acre farm near Boonville, Missouri, where they have been cultivating pine trees since 1986. The couple began selling the trees in 1990, just four days after the birth of their second daughter.
Now, the farm is a year-round business. The Harmon’s spend January cleaning up after Christmas, April planting new trees, and June shearing the larger trees.
“Everything we do in between is fighting the pests, which we do organically,” Harmon said. “And mowing and mowing and mowing.”
One of the most destructive pests on a Christmas tree farm is also one of the most unexpected ones: mice. A mouse can strip a tree of its bark towards the base of the trunk, making it unfit to sell.
The work never ends. According to Harmon, she and her husband plant roughly three trees for every one that will survive long enough to be sold, which could take between seven and 10 years. Most of their trees are Scotch pines. The majority of them fall prey to mice, deer and fungus.
Still, Harmon and her family believe in the spirit of a real Christmas tree. They even offer 25 percent off to customers who bring in artificial trees.
“You don’t eat a plastic turkey on Thanksgiving,” Harmon said.
As for the future of the farm, it could lie with the couple’s grandson, Dylan.
“This year, now that he’s six, he was greeting people, and he loves to shake the trees with the boys on the weekend,” Harmon said. “He’s really figuring it out.”
The Harmon’s also own Celestial Body Natural Arts, a shop in Boonville that sells various oils, soaps, and skin care products. When they are not working on the trees, the couple grows and distills aromatic plants for aromatherapy.
Even then, the main focus is always on the trees.
“Twelve months a year we talk about Christmas,” Harmon said.
So why Christmas trees?
“It was something my husband always wanted to do,” Harmon said. “So when we got married, that was the plan: just start planting trees and see what happens.”
In a few short minutes, Harmon brings the mallet down one final time. She holds up a perfect wreath made of real Scott pine branches and smiles before setting it aside and beginning all over again.