Visitors to a certain Christmas tree farm in Graton know one thing for sure: Santa Claus wears a fire helmet. This is only appropriate, given that the Graton Fire Department owns and operates the forest farm.
The Graton Fire Christmas tree farm surrounds the county fire station on the scenic north road to Gravenstein. Buyers can select a tree picked and cut or opt for a pre-cut tree from those grown on a certified sustainable forest farm in Oregon.
Visitors are treated daily with a specially prepared wassail hot apple cider, one of the many welcome touches to the farm. Members of the Ministry Career Team, Volunteer Team and Cadet Group occasionally stop to say hello or lend a hand.
Now in its 16th season, the tree farm stands out in several ways.
“Other than us, no fire department owns a Christmas tree farm in the country,” said Heather O’Dell, who has managed the tree farm since her first year.
Other departments operate Christmas tree lots as fundraisers, she said, but O’Dell is not aware of any that runs a tree farm year-round.
When the Graton Fire Department purchased the 9-acre site in 2006 to build their new station, it came with a condition of an agricultural use permit. The location was home to the Del Davis Christmas Tree Farm, where locals have been breeding holiday trees for generations.
Rather than renting out a property for a vineyard or other agricultural use, department officials decided to keep much of the plot as an arboreal farm. Today, about two-thirds of the site is dedicated to the operation, the revenues supporting the department.
O’Dell and his crew revitalized the farm and turned up the volume. It is now a destination for residents of West County as well as those of Sonoma County and beyond.
“People are interested in helping the firefighters. It’s a big deal, ”she said.
Create a positive experience
Customers return year after year, often bringing friends and extended family.
“It’s so special,” said Linda Lucia, who works full time at the forest farm. “They come because they know they are treated like royalty.”
She said everyone at the tree farm works to create a welcoming atmosphere and “those little things make this place special”.
Lucia and O’Dell work on the tree farm year round, with a local high school student also on the payroll. A few other paid employees help during the holiday season and in the winter when new seedlings are planted.
For the head of the department, Bill Bullard, the tree farm is more than a fundraising place. It is an opportunity to build a community. Rather than meeting people by answering fire calls, medical emergencies or at the scene of a car accident during “someone’s worst time”, the forest farm provides an outlet for occasional interactions. .
“It’s good. We end up chatting with people and it’s such a positive experience for them,” Bullard said.
He and O’Dell were particularly affected by community support last year amid concerns about the transmission of COVID-19 before vaccines were available.
“It was amazing to see people come out last year during COVID and find a sense of normalcy,” Bullard said.
“People came like crazy,” O’Dell said. “We had our best year ever. Customers bought not only Christmas trees – many of them – but also tree stands, ornaments and wreaths.
From seedlings to declaration documents
Additionally, visitors can sponsor a seedling for $ 1. In return, they use a ballpoint pen to engrave a name, message, or design on an aluminum plant tag. Each tag is then attached to a plant.
“It lets people understand that we intend to continue,” said O’Dell. “By sponsoring a seedling, it is your blessing to move forward. “
She said the tags often commemorate milestones such as weddings, births, the addition of new pets, or the death of loved ones.
“It’s a story,” said O’Dell, standing in the afternoon sun in the farm’s nursery, where tags can be spotted on dozens of small trees.
She and her team strive to provide quality trees that are the least likely to catch fire. Pre-cut trees ordered by O’Dell in Oregon – cut a few days before delivery – arrive in a refrigerated semi-trailer less than 36 hours before opening day. The trunks are then cut and the trees submerged in a shallow pond specially constructed to absorb the water.
When visitors see the pre-cut trees, several dozen lie in buckets of water, without a baling net to reveal their size and shape.
The effort requires “a lot of work and a lot of time,” O’Dell said, but trees don’t dry out as quickly and ignite as easily as those cut weeks earlier and without water.