BELMOND, Iowa (AP) — Lee and Lynne Aldrich got the idea to grow Christmas trees while stationed in Germany with the military about 50 years ago.
The couple would go for walks on weekends in the beautiful Bavarian forests full of evergreen trees.
The seed of an idea was planted. After moving back to farm his family's acreage southeast of Belmond, Lee's father, R.E. Lee Aldrich Jr., gave him some advice.
"Don't plant corn and soybeans on that hill back there because it's too sandy," Lee said his father told him.
There was the spot for their evergreen trees.
"We'll plant the trees and by the time we retire they'll be nice tall trees and we'll build an A-frame house out there," Lee, 73, told Lynne in 1968.
"And the rest is history."
They planted the first trees in 1968. That's how the Aldrich Christmas Tree Farm was born.
"We started selling them in 1976. The trees were $6 apiece. We sold about 10 trees," Lynne, 70, said.
Over the years, they've expanded the operation to include a breakroom and public restroom and a veritable Santa's workshop with space for wreath making and flocking Christmas trees.
Aldrich remodeled the large brick barn to look like it did in the 1930s. The stalls are used by crafts people each Thanksgiving weekend during their open house.
After 36 years in the Christmas tree business, what's it like working together?
"Oh, just great isn't it," Lynne jokingly said, peering over at her husband.
"We draw a line. She stays on that end and I stay on this end."
Lynne takes care of the employees and helps organize the arts and crafts show. As a retired schoolteacher, she also sees that the children who come to visit have a good time.
"I take care of what's out there," Lee said, pointing to the barns and fields of trees.
"You know this business is a personal business. I want to greet the people that come here. I don't want a stranger doing it," Lee said.
That first year they made a few wreaths in their basement. This year they sold 600 wreaths, shipping the beautifully decorated treasures to families in Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Florida, California and Colorado.
The Aldrichs plant approximately 2,000 new trees each year. It takes eight years for a tree to mature so it can be sold.
Vicki Box, Rowan, has been working for the Aldrichs since the 1980s, making and decorating wreaths.
"They're fun, lots of fun. We have a great time out here," she said.
They employ about 10 people making wreaths and about 20 or so to help sell the wreaths and trees, especially on the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Lynne's favorite thing about the business is meeting the people and talking to them and the kids.
"People meet me in town and the kids say, 'Ooh, there's Mr. Christmas Tree.' That's just such an ego booster. You know if you're a corn and soybean farmer, who cares."
Information from: Globe Gazette, http://www.globegazette.com/