12/2/2013 6:30 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent
Jerrianne Scheiderich is a very, very busy woman. She divides her time between working, home-educating her children and caring for the home she and her husband, Stephen, and their children share. And then there's the family farm.
She helps her widowed mother, Katherine Humphrey, operate All Western Evergreen Nursery & Christmas Tree Farm in Springwater, N.Y, which happens to be a six-hour, round-trip drive from her home in Lee Center, N.Y.
It's a logistical struggle and it’s a learning experience since she came into the business with little industry knowledge. Scheiderich views keeping the farm going as a tribute to her father, William "Bill" Humphrey, who passed away four years ago.
Scheiderich also hopes to pass the farm on to the next generation. That's why she drives out to the farm each summer weekend to fertilize, trim, spray and mow, and sells the trees each November and December. She and her family also spend a couple of weeks each year in Springwater to tackle even more chores around the farm.
Bill Humphrey had completed a degree in agricultural economics at the University of Georgia in Athens and began working at what is now the Farm Service Agency.
"He still had this farm and was still a farmer," Scheiderich said. "He decided to start the tree and nursery business because he couldn't be inside."
He also thought having the tree business could help pay the taxes on the land, so in 1968, he began planting trees on the land he and his father, Theodore, had been dairymen. Bill Humphrey’s father had passed away and he had married Katherine two years earlier. He realized growing Christmas trees would help him use his land without having to spend as much time tending to dairy cows.
The couple selected varieties that naturally grow only in the Western U.S., thus the farm's name.
"We joined the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York, The National Christmas Tree Association and the Exotic Conifer Association, a growers’ association," Katherine Humphrey said. "We enjoyed visiting with the people and learning about the growing techniques."
The couple soon realized their education on Christmas trees had only begun. Though the trees initially grew, their first planting floundered. The Humphreys thought root rot had sabotaged their trees, but they wanted a professional diagnosis before replanting.
“We had people from Cornell Cooperative Extension come out to the farm," she recalled. "I invited them to dinner. Over dinner, I had them go over with Bill where the damping moss was happening. It's caused by a fungus in the moisture in the soil in the bed, not root rot."
Once they cleared up that mystery, the Humphreys were able to replant and the operation took off. Eventually, the couple began growing trees from seed and from that endeavor, the nursery developed. The first trees sold in 1977.
The farm currently grows and replants 50 acres of trees. Though Scheiderich grew up on the farm, she was not licensed to perform any spraying or fertilization tasks, which comprise some of the more practical aspects of successfully growing Christmas trees.
After obtaining her pesticide certification, Scheiderich was able to fill her late father's work boots. Scheiderich maintains her skill through continuing education credits. Her mother keeps the books at the office and cooks for the seasonal crews that help care for the trees.
All Western grows numerous varieties, including Grand fir, concolor fir, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir and sub-alpine fir for its "choose-and-cut" trees; and Douglas fir, Canaan fir, Grand fir, concolor fir and Fraser fir for fresh-cut trees. All Western also shakes, wraps and drills each tree and sells tree stands, wreaths, kissing balls and other festive green decor.
"My dad was probably one of the hardest working people I've ever met next to my mom," Scheiderich said. "I feel that the farm is a valuable asset to keep in the family. It was my great-grandfather's and I'm fortunate enough to be able to have it and I hope that one or both of my kids find they enjoy it and want to keep it in my family."
Scheiderich and Humphrey are opening a new you-pick location this year.
"It should look really good," Humphrey said. "It has a really nice selection. We're also emphasizing value-added items like wreaths, kissing balls, garland and center pieces.
"The garland-to-go is 4-foot lengths for $12. We did it last year and it all sold fast. We also do garland-to-order and we'll make it to the length they want," she added.
They'll also intend to continue offering a craft table for children and sachets filled with pine needles, which can help make selecting a Christmas tree more of an agritourism event.
"Whenever you take on new things, it gives the farm new life," Humphreys said.