O Christmas tree

Published 1:07 pm Monday, December 2, 2013

Employees prepare Christmas trees at Butler Tree Farm in Dowagiac, Mich. Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN

Employees prepare Christmas trees at Butler Tree Farm in Dowagiac, Mich. Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN

The folks at Butler Tree Farm in Dowagiac, Mich. are definitely ready for the Christmas season to begin.

“I would say about 70 percent of my customers come from Chicago. At least 60, probably 70 percent,” said Sam Butler, co-owner of Butler Tree Farm. “They come up to their lake houses in the summer….This is their paradise. They love Southwest Michigan, and they’re just looking for another reason to come back to this area.

“The average family that comes here during the normal Christmas season is here for six, seven hours,” Butler said. “It’s their annual family tradition.”
Besides choosing and cutting a Christmas tree from the farm located at 21515 Crane St., families can enjoy several other holiday activities. There is a bake shop, a gift shop and a petting zoo that includes bloodhounds, llamas, pygmy goats, peacocks, ponies and geese.

“I used to come up here with my family. We lived near here, and I really wanted to bring my children up here last year, but it didn’t work out. I’m so happy we made it this year! They opened a week early, and we were able to fit it into our schedule. The kids love it,” said Ali Wenger, who recently visited the Christmas tree farm with her husband Jamie and their five children.

Adults also have their reasons for visiting Butler Tree Farm year after year.

“The service is great, and the trees are gorgeous. And, it’s just a fun day out. My daughter Ann Marie got us hooked on this place because she lives in Dowagiac. We’ve been coming here for about 10 years now,” said Peg Lyzon of South Bend, Ind. She and her daughter Julie each bought a tree.

Excitement at the beginning of the Christmas season was expressed by both customers and owners alike.

“We’re so blessed to have such loyal, dedicated families that come to us,” said Brenda Butler, co-owner of the farm and Sam’s wife. “They truly are a part of our family, and we so look forward to when they all come home again —to Butler Tree Farm.”

Sam and Brenda, who just celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary, started planting the Christmas trees on their land in 1998. With the expectation that the trees would be ready to cut and sell in about nine years, Sam planned to retire from his job with the Norfolk-Southern Railroad a few years after the trees were mature.

While they waited for their trees to grow, the Butlers began selling pre-cut trees, but that quickly changed. As it turned out, the Butlers sold their first choose-and-cut tree in 2001, several years before Sam retired early due to an injury from which he fought hard to recover.

Now, the Butlers sell eight varieties of Christmas trees. Pre-cut trees are less expensive than the choose-and-cut trees, and Sam never cuts them more than four days prior to sale. Prices for trees range from $20 to $85.

“We just do a flat rate. Each of the varieties is a different price. The very low end is your Scotch pine,” Brenda said. “At the high end is the Fraser Fir….These are premium trees, but people need to attend to their tree. Keep it away from a direct heat source, and make sure it is constantly drawing water. The Michigan Christmas Tree Growers Association recommends using hot tap water.”

Growing Christmas trees is more labor intensive than one might realize, keeping Sam and Brenda busy for the majority of the year.

When the Butlers are not caring for their farm, they focus on a charity that is very dear to them, as both Sam and his son are veterans. Along with the Marine Riders, they support the VFW’s National Home for Children. Open since 1925, it houses approximately 125 children of military families who require help in raising their children for various reasons.

The Butlers also sell pumpkins from their farm in October.

“We operate October, November and December. The rest of the year is just maintaining the farm. October is weekends only,” Sam said. “It’s just like Christmas, but it’s pumpkins. Then, the weekend before Thanksgiving through to Christmas, it’s Christmas trees — where we are now.”

“It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh! Here they come again!’ We’re so excited,” Brenda said. “The people are coming in, and the snow’s coming down, and the guys are out there just giddy! I said, ‘Here it is, and more’s coming!’”