The Jensen family has been farming for four generations and growing wholesale Christmas trees for three generations. Twenty-two seasons ago, they opened their Tenino-area farm to the public for Christmas tree sales, mostly because their neighbors began asking if they could buy a tree from them.
“Honestly, I think if we tried to shut down, our neighbors wouldn’t let us,” Kevin Jensen said with a laugh.
In a way, it was also their neighbors who inspired the Mendez family of Rochester to begin selling their trees to the public. Jose “Tony” Mendez had worked in Christmas tree reforestation for 29 years but decided to open his farm to his neighbors six years ago and offer trees for just $10 each. Today, the cost is just $12 per tree and Mendez said they keep their prices so low because he wants every family to be able to afford a nice Christmas.
“It’s for the community, my friends and family,” Mendez said. “For a few years, the economy is really bad and a lot of people can’t afford to pay $60-$80 for a tree and also afford Christmas presents for their children.”
The Thanksgiving holiday brings with it the traditional opening of the Christmas tree season. According to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, Lewis County is one of the top four counties in Washington for Christmas tree production. While much of Lewis County’s production is focused on wholesale, there are still a few u-cut Christmas tree farms offering local families the chance to choose their own Christmas tree, as well a few Christmas surprises. The farmers say owning a Christmas tree farm is a lot of work, but they keep doing it because of the joy it brings to others.
Growing Christmas trees is a long-term commitment, explained Tony Mendez’s daughter Emilia. Trees grow about one foot per year, meaning that it will take an average tree five to six years to be ready for sale. At the Mendez tree farm, they plant about 1,000 new trees each year.
“As soon as we start cutting, they’re replanting,” Emilia said.
And while Washington may be a state where evergreens thrive, a Christmas tree grower’s work is not done once the trees are in the ground. They require year-round work, including fertilizing and pruning, to achieve the desired product.
“It’s labor intensive and there’s no labor,” said Kevin Jensen’s father, Steve, whose parents started the Jensen family Christmas tree business in 1980.
For both farmers, growing Christmas trees is a labor of love that centers around family. Tony Mendez immigrated to the United States from Mexico at the age of 22 and worked as a farm worker, first in California and then eventually in Washington. Later, he worked in reforestation before opening his own tree business. The Christmas tree business was actually the brainchild of his Son Antonio Mendez Jr. and today Emilia and her children Yesen Carbajal Mendez, 9, and Xavier Mendez Sanchez, 15, are involved in the business. Tony said he has always tried to teach his family the value of hard work.
“Everything I do is for my family,” Tony said. “I’m proud of all my family I have here in the U.S. and in Mexico.”
The Jensen family has been farming their 1,100 acre-farm for four generations, raising beef cattle and then utilizing their large amount of land to grow Christmas trees. More recently, the farm is also an event venue. At first, all of the Jensens’ trees were sold to a family friend with a tree lot near Los Angeles. Today, the Jensens sell about 2,000 trees wholesale and about 1,000 retail each year. Kevin still remembers the first Christmas season they opened the retail business to the public. They built a campfire under an old fir tree and shivered in the cold waiting to help people. While demand has risen and fallen over the years, Kevin said he still enjoys seeing the families come through each year and being part of their Christmas season.
“I think it’s the people,” said Kevin Jensen, of what has kept his family in the Christmas tree retail business for so many years. “It’s the one time of year we get to see our neighbors and the community.”