Monday afternoon found me on the road over to Runnells, Iowa and the Miller Christmas Tree Farm. In a Christmas season which has found us with more brown ground than white, Mother Nature obliged me and gave me a picturesque area in the vicinity of the Des Moines River. The snow which had fallen on Sunday hadn’t seemed to melt from this 65-year family tree farm. It was then that I got to meet Jill.
Jill Brady is the daughter of founders Jack and Beth Miller. You would be hard-pressed to find someone that seemed to have more Christmas spirit. As we sat in her kitchen, she told me the history of the family business, beginning over six decades ago with her father. Jack Miller established the farm on about half of his 40 acres of wooded property, to supplement his income and have something for the whole family to be involved with.
This is the first Christmas Jack hasn’t been a part of the family’s Christmas tradition as he sadly passed away this year. However, the legacy he hoped to give his family is still going strong. Not only is the legacy of his family farm still going, but there are many Christmas tree farms around the state that have Jack Miller to thank for helping them get started. In fact, Jill told me how Jack was one of the first people involved in the Iowa Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Jill said that Jack was a believer in forestry. He looked at the tree farm as a way to help find the needed balance in nature. There are many older and taller trees on the property, but with the tree farm they are able to plant new trees and also thin out areas which are overpopulated with trees that would never reach a ripe old age. If you are someone who is concerned that tree farms can cause an undue waste of a natural resource, Jill will be the first to assure you that they are in this for the management and conservation of a healthy population of trees in their woods.
Jack tried to establish many different varieties of trees on his 40 acres. Jill reminisced about how he would obtain seed stock to try and see what he could establish. While there are many different tree types out there, the tree farm sells about five or six different species as Christmas trees.
Brady says it can take about anywhere between six and ten years to grow a six-foot tree for your home. It all depends on the species. It didn’t take that long for Jack to get the Miller Tree Farm going. After about four years, he worked out a deal with Iowa State University to provide smaller trees for the students at the school.
Running a tree farm takes all hands on deck for the whole year. While we tend to only think about the tress when we need that lovely smell of pine in the living room after Thanksgiving, the Miller tree farm says it is after the holidays have ended that the real work begins. You could say that the next season for them begins on December 26th.
They will begin by clearing the stumps from this year’s harvest. Then it will be about planning and planting trees in the spring. Throughout the year it is about trimming, preventing diseases on the trees, and trying their best to save as many trees from the deer population who like to frequently visit from nearby Yellow Banks Park.
Jill says that the best feeling is when you see the repeat customers coming back. They now see grandchildren of their original customers still coming out to the farm to get their trees. It is about a family growing operation that is still catering to the families of their customers.
Miller tree farm has trees pre-cut for your convenience, or you can still do it the old-fashioned way and cut down your own. Whatever your choice, the drive out to Runnells is well worth the trip. As I took a walk, yesterday, on one of the many paths in their woods, I was impressed by the sheer beauty of being in the woods. The snow still clinging to the boughs of the trees coupled with the smell of the pines and the nip in the air, could put anybody into the Christmas mood.
More information about the Miller tree farm can be found on their website.