Each year, in the days after Thanksgiving, families flock to the Christmas tree lots to buy the perfect tree.
For the past 14 years, Ann and Wayne Harmon have provided Boone County with a hands-on Christmas tree experience.
Families travel to the Starr Pines Christmas Tree Farm, which allows customers to cut down trees. The small, winding driveway to the farm, at exit 106 off Missouri 87 in Boonville, fills cars with the scent of pine and fresh air. The farm was established in 1990 when the Harmons opened their 40-acre tree plantation.
“It’s what we always wanted to do,” Ann Harmon said. “When Wayne was a kid, he wanted a farm, and I always wanted to live on one. But we both didn’t want a conventional crop.”
The Harmons wanted to provide an establishment far from shopping malls.
“This is a time when everyone is really happy and just being out there to pick out a tree in nature is a good experience,” Ann Harmon said. “We have bald eagles and rabbits surrounding the area.”
Each year, the owners greet hundreds of residents who are provided what Ann Harmon calls a “unique Christmas experience for families.”
Every year, the Harmons plant 2-year-old seedlings into their seven-year crop rotation. This year, they will harvest trees planted in 1996.
The tree plantation stretches over 200 acres and provides its visitors with a fun way to enjoy the experience of picking out the perfect tree. The establishment has grown in popularity over the years from 70 customers in 1990 to about 1,500 last year.
“The first year we were open, we had a little desk and money tin outside the gate,” Wayne Harmon said. “Now we have a billboard and a Web site.”
Residents of Boone County bring their children, friends and even dogs. The visitors are welcomed to the lot with a warm cup of hot cider, the Harmons’ pot belly pig and a tractor ride out into the woods where they get a firsthand lumberjack experience.
“You get to bring home a tree that’s so fresh; it doesn’t get any fresher, “Ann Harmon said.
The tree plantation has become a Christmas custom for many visitors.
“The people that come here have made it a tradition,” Ann Harmon said. “Kids look forward to it and bring their own kids when they grow up.”
Annie Bailey and her daughter, Sadee, 8, visited Starr Pines for their second year in a row. Although Sadee liked riding in the wagon best, her mother said, “I like going outside and doing this on our own. We called all the kids to come out together to cut down the trees; it’s just more personable.”
Two years ago, the Harmons lost almost 70 percent of their plantation when a tornado and then a hailstorm stripped the trees of their pine needles.
“We were still able to stay open, but we had to borrow trees from another lot,” Wayne Harmon said.
The Harmons were able to clean up and replant the crops that had been destroyed. They plan to expand their business as they continue to rotate the crops.
“We always replant more than we harvest,” Wayne Harmon said. “We are continuing to expand and hope to get back to the wholesale market.”