Small family farms are on the decline nationwide. But one kind of farm is bucking the trend.
Ken Ottman and his family have been farming 64 acres of Christmas trees since 1946. In addition to operating cut Christmas tree lots in Milwaukee, he and his two siblings care for “cut-your-own” tree farms in Belleville, Fish Creek and Door County. He says the most successful tree farms in Wisconsin are family owned and operated, “The economics of growing Christmas trees don’t support the large corporate expenses that you have with a bigger company. I mean really the economics of growing trees are fairly restrictive in terms of how much corporate overhead you can have and still market your trees.”
Ottman says most of his business comes from families who make picking out a tree a holiday tradition. He says relationship building is key to running a Christmas tree farm. And that's not just the case in Wisconsin. Rick Dungey is a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association. He’s been with the organization for almost two decades and says he doesn’t know of any successful corporate Christmas tree operations, “The farms that grow Christmas trees as their only crop or even just one of their main crops is a family farm operation, and some of them now are even multi-generational farms.”
Wisconsin is the fifth largest tree producer in the nation with more than 30,000 acres planted. The most popular varieties are the balsam and frasier firs.