PERHAM, Minn. (AP) — Standing on trampled snow, her cheeks ruddy from the frigid air, Sandra Spindler probably would have thrown up her hands if they weren’t already holding her 2-year-old girl.
“We’re kind of feeling defeated,” she said.
For more than an hour, she and her husband, Chad, and daughter Natalie had combed the grounds of Cupkie Christmas Village near Perham, searching for the perfect evergreen to cut down.
For mom, hauling a live Christmas tree to their Detroit Lakes home would be reminiscent of her own childhood. For dad, it was a new experience, as his family used artificial trees.
“We fight every year if we’re going to have an artificial or real (tree),” she said. “I won this year.”
So off they went, stomping through the snow and eyeballing each sunlit evergreen on the farm’s gently sloping hills.
“It’s a perfect day to do this,” Sandra remarked.
Finally, they found a tree. It wasn’t perfect – the bottom 18 inches seemed rather bare – but it was tall enough that if they lopped it off high, it would make a fine ornament hanger.
Chad knelt down and, using a candy cane-colored bow saw courtesy of the Cupkies, felled the Colorado blue spruce.
“Timber,” he grunted as the needles hit the snow.
And, like that, another family tradition was born.
For Todd Cupkie, who runs the farm with his dad, Lynn, and Lynn’s wife, Peggy, that’s the reason for their busy season.
The horse-drawn sleigh rides, the fresh cider and Santa Claus in the gift shop, the two outdoor fire pits for roasting hot dogs and s’mores – all of it combines to enhance the tree-picking process.
“We try to sell them an experience more so than a Christmas tree,” he said.
Real Christmas trees remain popular among Americans.
According to the National Christmas Tree Association’s annual poll, about 28.2 million people bought real trees in 2009, compared to 11.7 million who bought artificial trees.
Of those who bought real trees, nearly one-third did so at choose-and-harvest farms such as Cupkie Christmas Village, now in its 11th season about five miles south of Perham.
Todd Cupkie estimates the business will sell 800 to 1,000 trees on site this year between cut-your-own and precut trees, plus another 1,000 to 1,500 wholesale trees at locations throughout Minnesota.
About 50,000 trees are planted on the 43-acre farm. The Cupkies buy the trees – 14 different varieties – as seedlings and grow them for two years before transplanting them into rows to fill gaps from the previous year’s harvest.
“Every tree is hand-planted with a bucket and a tree spade,” Cupkie said.
The farm’s hired hands also start making wreaths in October, going through 3 to 4 tons of bough a season.
As tree-seekers pulled into the farmyard this weekend, Lynn Cupkie greeted them with a map of the farm and, if they didn’t have one, a saw.
After cutting down their family tree, Chad Spindler dragged it across the snow about 100 feet, stopping at the road to catch his breath and pull his pickup closer.
“At least you got your workout today,” said Sandra, a massage therapist.
“I suppose,” said Chad, an engineering technician.
So, would there be a massage in his future for his hard work?
“Yeah, right,” he deadpanned.
After watching Cupkie and a co-worker run the tree through the baler, the family went inside the gift shop. But Natalie wasn’t quite ready to share her Christmas list with Santa.
“She hasn’t liked him from day one,” Sandra said, laughing. “She looks, but she won’t go near him.
“Maybe next year.”
By MIKE NOWATZKI
The Forum of Fargo
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