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'People are starting early this year'

Brisk business for tree farm over Thanksgiving weekend

Katie, Darlene, Alex, Chris and Wes Burnham of Wellman check out a tree at Morning Star Farm in Brighton on Saturday. (James Jennings/The Union)
Katie, Darlene, Alex, Chris and Wes Burnham of Wellman check out a tree at Morning Star Farm in Brighton on Saturday. (James Jennings/The Union)
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The weekend after Thanksgiving, when many people begin putting up their Christmas decorations, means the beginning of the busy season for Morning Star Farm in Brighton.

People took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to head to the tree farm to pick out their Christmas trees.

“We had 50 trees cut yesterday,” owner Larry Cuddeback said Saturday. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a day like that. People are staring early this year.”

Each year, the farm opens for a few weeks until all of their mature trees are cut and sold.

“We’re not at peak production, by any means,” Cuddeback said. “We sold 160 last year. We might sell that many this year.”

He said their biggest year was about six years ago when they sold 275 trees.

“They just cleaned me out,” he said.

Cuddeback, who holds a degree in forestry from Iowa State University, moved to the property in rural Brighton in 1980 and began planting Christmas trees.

“We’re on the third generation of some families, maybe even the fourth generation,” he said. “This is the only time of year that I see most of them.

“We like to visit with everyone and have a good time – just good fellowship.”

Customers come to the farm and are offered a bow saw and a few tips, then search the property for the perfect tree.

“It’s funny,” Cuddeback said. “A lot of people come back to the first tree they see. There should be some way to market that.”

People also visit at the Cuddeback Trading Post, a small building decorated with items from the early 1900s.

The Cuddebacks pass out candy canes and visit with customers to the warmth of two potbelly stoves. In the past, they also served hot chocolate.

“This year is the only year we haven’t done hot chocolate, because of COVID,” Cuddeback said. “People miss that.”

A visit to Morning Star Farm is more than just getting a Christmas tree, and that is by design.

“I like to say we give away the trees and sell the experience,” Cuddeback said. “We enjoy being part of a lot of Christmases. When groups come out here, it’s very festive. People have a good time.”

The farm grows a variety of trees, including Scotch pine, white pine, southwestern white pine, blue spruce, white spruce, Norway spruce, Serbian spruce and a few Canaan fir.

“The firs don’t really like to grow here,” Cuddeback said. “Most of these don’t like to grow in Iowa’s climate, or you’d see them in the timber.”

He said it takes from seven to 15 years for a Christmas tree to grow to maturity.

“It’s not like corn or beans,” he said. “Some people want a 10-12-foot tree. With our demand, they’re gone before they get that tall, because we sell out.”

Cuddeback said he expects that all of their mature trees will be gone by the second weekend of December.

“There aren’t many tree farms around any more,” he said. “I wish there were, so I’d have someone to refer people to when we’re sold out.”