Christmas time is here, and that means many people will hoof it out onto a farm to cut down a Christmas tree.
Instead of putting up a fake version, the Sprouffskes and the Gerrits would like to invite area residents to try out the real thing.
The Sprouffske family have been Christmas tree farming together since the mid 1960s.
In 1965 Fred and Ethel Fay Spouffske decided to become tree farmers, and by 1966 that first generation of Sprouffske tree farmers had approached their adult children, and formed an intergenerational family partnership to grow christmas trees.
“The statement my dad made when he asked us all in, was: ‘You know, the biggest potential to tear a family up is a family forming a business together,’” said Karen Creamer, Fred Sprouffske’s daughter. ”And we said: ‘We won’t let it.’ Well, you get your miffs, but you get them straightened out and we’ve been going for 53 years since the partnership.”
The original members included Fred and Ethel Fay Sprouffske, Nancy and Bill Roberts, Karen and Johnie Creamer, Larry and Mary Sprouffske as well as Jerry and Sandra Sprouffske.
Now, some of the members are deceased, but they leave behind a third and fourth generation of Sprouffske tree farmers. The oldest person still on the farm is Johnie Creamer at 79 years old, and the youngest person on the farm is little Alexander at 6.
“I think it’s fun as a family farm because you get to spend a lot of time together,” said Shelley Sprouffske, who married into the third generation of Sprouffske tree farmers. “We have Thanksgiving dinner at my house, then Christmas dinner up at Jerry and Sandy’s. If everyone is talking at both of those, it is a success. You get to spend a lot of time with family and most people don’t get to do that any more.”
Sprouffske Trees sells Douglas firs for $30, grand firs for $40 and noble firs for $50. They also retail decorative items like swags, wreaths, snowflakes, crosses, door arches, horse-head wreaths and wreath bows. Sprouffske Trees have also been wholesaling their trees to places like California since 1972.
Hot cocoa, Russian tea, hot tea, coffee and candy canes come free during the farm’s hours of operation: from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 14020 Finian Rd SE, Rainier.
Their business doesn’t just reach back into the 60’s. Sandra Sprouffske said it also reaches back into generations of repeat customers.
“We have a family from Puyallup that comes every year, and they were one of our first customers,” Sandra Sprouffske said. “They come every year so it’s been almost 50 years they’ve been coming out here. Now I’m seeing her grandkids and her great-grandkids. So we’ve got some really long-lasting customers that are just sweethearts.”
Gregory Gerrits and his wife purchased the property that became Gerrits Greens in December of 1981.
“We cleared the land, then planted our first crop when my wife was pregnant with our daughter,” Gerrits said. “It was early 1983.”
When he and his family first started out, they had high aspirations, Gerrits said.
“We were going to have five areas, but now we have one, two, three areas,” Gerrits said. “We planted area one in 1983 originally, and area two in 1984, but we had a high mortality rate, so for years and years we replanted and replanted to get them established. Then kids came along and you put everything on hold. We had area three planted when my son was in high school — in 2003 or 2004.”
During Christmas season Gerrits wakes up early, and sometimes isn’t done helping customers until he’s finding trees by lantern-light, he said. Selling 95 percent of his trees on the weekend, the weekdays can be pretty droll, but he makes the best of it, welcoming guests and treating them like family. Plus, it gives him more time to baby his trees.
“On the weekends it is an absolute zoo,” Gerrits said. “I have 25 parking spots marked out, and on a good weekend, I’ll have every one of them full and have people parking in the weeds.”
He is open every day of the week from 9 a.m. to dusk off of Vail Cutoff Road. Call (360) 446-7199 for directions.
His trees range from $20 to $40 — the longer it takes to grow the tree, the more expensive it is. He grows Douglas firs, grand firs, cork bark firs, Korean firs, Colorado blue spruces, Canaan firs, shasta red firs, nordman firs, noble firs and Serbian spruces, to name several.
Here is Little More Information About Some of the Trees:
Douglas Fir — The tree is native to the area, so when Gerrits plants one, it only takes six or seven years until it can be sold.
Grand fir — This tree is also a native. It’s a true fir and can be grown in about eight or nine years.
Corkbark Fir — This tree is native to the Arizona, New Mexico area. They have the look of a Colorado blue spruce, but their needles aren’t sharp. They can have a bluish tint to them.
Colorado Blue Spruce — Gerrits quit growing the Colorado blue spruce and started growing the corkbark fir, he said, but won’t know if that was a good idea until up to 12 years later.
Shasta Red Fir — At one point, Gerrits probably had 3,500 of them, he said, but the ones he has left are getting a bit too big, causing him to have to make a decision in the next fews years about whether or not he’ll plant any more of them.
Nordmann Fir — The ones Gerrits is really in love with are the nordman fir, he said, but there is a drawback to them. When he puts them in the ground, they’re six to nine inches tall by three years old, then they sit there for a year or two and finally start growing. They take about 12 years to grow. And Gerrits says he can’t grow them fast enough, since about 85 percent of his sales are nordman.
Noble Firs — Gerrits calls these “a good Christmas tree,” but in 1983 he planted 1,400 of them and within two years, 1,300 of them died. He said he thinks the reason that they didn’t take at first was because he planted plugs instead of bare root and didn’t have very good weed control. He has since resumed planting these trees.