What is it like working as a family?
It can be a challenge once in a while. Every afternoon when they get home from work. it's 'what trees do I need to cut?' or bringing greenery in. I have several nieces who help me in the shop. I have great neighbors and friends who help. We employ 14 people in the season. It's good friends. Along with their pay that isn't great, we always have lunch for them. Some of the boys have worked here since they were 15 years old and some [are] in their upper 20s. One of the first things they ask when they get here is what's for lunch that day. We couldn't do it without them.
Why do you think so many people enjoy picking out their own Christmas tree, even in these busy times?
It's part of the tradition. We forget how far people are removed from agriculture. There are children who will stand and watch. It's a totally different way of life. I could never make it living in town. I think it's just that family tradition of coming here and doing something special and enjoying it.
What is the most interesting story you can recall since your family started selling the trees?
I think I could write a book about some of the experiences we've had. One of my favorite stories was about my youngest son. We tag all our trees. His first year he was 6. You give 6-year-old a 10-foot stick, saying keep it in the air. Keep it straight up. Finally he's looking at the stick and he says, "I sure hope I don't hit God with that stick." Those kind of things [are] day-to-day occurrences you never dream will happen.
How difficult is it operating a Christmas tree farm from an economic standpoint?
It's been a good year. I think people have scrimped and saved. Even on a nationwide basis tree sales are up all over the country. I think people aren't so much worried about the gifts this year but want to do things with their families they can share. Memories are being made. It's hard to get the whole family together anymore and do something special.
You grew up on a dairy farm. Tell us more about what that was like.
That was always busy. We had cows to milk twice a day. It was 365 days a week, twice a day. It was a family farm. Me, my one brother and two sisters were all involved with it. Being part of a farm and farm family was one of the best memories. You worked hard. But it was a good tired.
You earned an agriculture degree from Southeast Missouri State University in 1980 and have worked at the Missouri Extension office in Jackson for 31 years as a secretary. What is so appealing about agriculture?
It's just being part of agriculture. You go outside and you can see the labors of love, like the trees. To be part of God's creation and how he puts everything together. When we put a seedling in the ground, it's six to seven years before we get any income from trees from that. It's the belief that it will grow. It's a long-term investment.
What do you do with your free time?
I like to read and do some gardening. We're members of the National Christmas Tree Association. Last year's meeting was in Chattanooga [Tenn.]. We try to do that and make that a vacation. I'm also the secretary for Missouri Christmas Tree Association, president of ladies group at Christ Lutheran Church in Gordonville and secretary and treasurer of the Missouri River Hills Association.
Who are two people who have affected you the most?
My parents, LaFern and Marvin Schoen. I was always very active in 4-H growing up. They taught us to volunteer and to help others and a good work ethic. It wasn't a question of when you got out of bed but that you had to get your chores done before school.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I could listen to Christmas music nine months of the year. In September and October I'm pricing things and have Christmas music going and my boys say, 'Oh, Mom.' It gets me in the mood. Christmas gives you warm memories and traditions. You think back to things you were doing that make music special to you.
For you, what is so magical about Christmas?
It's the whole concept of love and Christ being born. I feel like I'm a very giving person all the time but there are some people that need a little spirit to get in that mood. This is a fun business to get in because everyone's excited. People tell us this is a very reasonable place to come. We want it to be a place where you can feel comfortable bringing your family and not spend an arm and a leg. We just want to be a part of their Christmas, a tradition that they enjoy.
What is your favorite Christmas memory?
One of the first years our boys were old enough to help here. This is our 21st selling season. Our oldest son will be 28. But they were 6, 7 years old when we started. Those first years when they were able to help us, they were so excited. We have a lot of customers that we've watched their kids grow up and they've watched our kids grow up. It's like a big family that you see once a year.