Spreading Christmas Cheer
Jim and Karen Lane met in the Baptist Student Union at Arkansas Tech in Russellville, Ark., where he was one of a multi-instrument gospel group. Jim smiled just a bit smugly and declared, “The date was Sept. 27, 1985.”
On the couple’s first date, Karen waited while Jim performed at a fifth-quarter football youth fellowship meeting. Afterword they talked until 6 a.m.
“I asked for his wallet to find out all about him. He gave it to me and I found money he didn’t even know he had,” Karen recalled with a smile.
Jim is owner of Lane’s Carpet in their hometown of Etna, Ark., while Karen is the director of Calvary Schools in Ozark, Ark. The school offers education for students preschool through 12th grade.
The couple has four adult children: Levi, Landon, Lincoln and Leighannah. When their oldest son was born, they started a choose and cut Christmas tree farm on 10 acres purchased from Jim’s father Frank. The farm was to be and became a money management teaching instrument for the children who all worked at the farm growing up.
Raising Christmas trees in Arkansas means being limited to those species that thrive in a more southern climate. The Lanes raise Virginia Pines and Leyland Cypress, a sterile hybrid originating in 1888. They also tried raising Scotch Pines, but the climate wasn’t suitable. Their new experiment is Blue Ice Cypress, a beautiful blue/green colored tree still a few years away from harvesting. In order to offer customers more choices, the Lane’s bring in Frazer and Douglas firs. One of the more popular sizes is a 6 foot tree which takes five years to grow. Each year 300 to 500 trees are harvested, shaken to dislodge loose needles, bound in plastic netting if desired and tied to the roofs of vehicles.
In March, 1,000 young trees are planted 10 feet apart. Mowing down the middle of the rows while spraying the sides is a constant activity that limits competition for soil nutrition and moisture, especially important since the land is never fertilized or watered.
Trimming is essential because the trees do not naturally grow in a cone shape. They are trimmed at the end of May, in August and again in October, as well as being topped just before harvest.
Spraying for bugs is crucial. Cypress is susceptible to bag worms which typically occur twice each growing season while Virginia Pines are susceptible to tip moths and aphids requiring three sprayings. The farm started with a small 8-foot-by-10-foot outbuilding the Lanes found too confining as more and more people wanted to spend the whole day at the farm, resulting in a new two-bedroom, one loft cabin which will eventually be rented out of season. The charming and cozy front room serves as a sales area, a gathering place, a cozy corner to play checkers or put puzzles together and as the site of two escape rooms laden with hidden clues, especially popular with young couples and small groups.
The Lane farm hosts field trips with a total of 1,000 students per year from kindergarten through third grade. Children are treated to hot chocolate and sugar cookies decorated with colored sugar.
“We make our own chocolate mix, bake my cookies, and dye the decorating sugar,” Karen said.
Students are divided into groups of 25 and led through five different activities. One group receives a guided tour about how the farm works emphasizing simple math skills such as estimating tree circumference and the total number of trees on the farm. They also solve simple word problems involving how fast a tree grows each year and how many years it takes to mature. Another group is treated to hot chocolate and cookies inside the cabin while a third is led by Jim into the field and asked questions about traditions, what they are and their meanings.
Jim explained that questions and answers are rooted in the Gospel and include why a Christmas tree is shaped like a cone (because it points to heaven), why trees are lighted (because Jesus is the light of the world), why evergreens (because God’s love is everlasting), and what candy canes represent (the shepherd’s crook).
A fourth group goes on a hayride around the farm which passes a nativity scene where the children are told the Christmas story. The last group is on the outside of the cabin where old time toys and picture taking opportunities with a live snowman entertaining them. The toys include stilts, a huge seesaw and buddy skis. Time and weather permitting, a bonfire completes the festive atmosphere.
The Lane advertising method is unique. They take a picture of each family who comes for a tree, post the picture on Facebook that year, and mail it to the family the following November as a reminder to return again and have a wonderful time.… which they do.