Christmas tree farms bloom in Snoqualmie Valley
December 16, 2009
By Tara Ballenger
Marilyn Kassian still remembers one of her first customers to her Christmas tree farm.
Minutes before nightfall in late December 1984—four years after she and her family had planted 5,000 Douglas fir trees on their 22 acres of land at the base of Mount Si—a young mother came with her four-year-old son and asked Kassian if it was too late to get a tree.
Kassian told the woman that the trees were young and still small but she was insistent, so Kassian led the pair to the farm’s selection of firs and helped them pick out and saw down a tiny tree in the dark.
“They were on a mission,” she said, smiling as she arranged ornaments in the farm’s gift shop.
“I remember, at one point, the little boy said he wanted to go because it was cold, and the mother looked at him and said ‘Bite your tongue, we’re here to get a Christmas tree!’”
The mother and son came back every year, becoming one of the farm’s many repeat customers. It’s the customers—whose faces she comes to expect each December—who keep her putting in the hard work at Mountain Creek Tree Farm each year.
“It’s a lot more work than you’d think,” Kassian said. “They need to be pruned four times a year, then you contend with deer, elk and rabbits eating them.”
Farms like the Kassian’s have become part of the holiday season in Snoqualmie Valley. Homemade signs for “U-CUT TREES” pepper state Route 202 and newly-muddied SUVs and station wagons trickle out from back roads around Snoqualmie and North Bend with six-foot nobles strapped to the hood.
Some of those cars are going back home to Seattle, Sammamish and Bellevue, but many customers are from the Valley, Kassian said.
The popularity of u-cut farms is growing. Crown Tree Farm, the Valley’s oldest, sold all the trees its land can sustain and closed for the season in mid-December. Two weekends before Christmas, hundreds of freshly shorn stumps jut out from the dark soil at Mountain Creek farm, and the Kassians said they are close to being “sold out” of trees, too.
“It’s a Christmas tradition and family outing, especially for families who live in the cities,” Kassian said.
“We’re hooked,” said Susan Huffaker of Bellevue as she searched for the perfect Turkish Fir with her husband and two children on a snowy Saturday. “There’s something about getting to go out and look for just the right one, and it is so beautiful here.”
Kassian was a bank teller and her husband William was a butcher while their children were growing up, but after they retired they decided to start a Christmas tree farm. In 1980, they started planting thousands of saplings—bought for $ 0.25 a piece—with a manual tiller.
“For the first few years, it was just a write-off,” William said. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it.”
When the mother and son proudly bought their five-footer in 1984, they were one of only seven or eight buyers that year. Now, Mountain Creek sells thousands each season at $5-$7 per foot.
A few years ago, the boy whose mother had insisted on a nighttime Christmas tree hunting expedition two decades earlier came to Mountain Creek to choose a tree alone.
He told Kassian that his mother had been killed in a motorcycle crash that fall. The memories created each year at the farm with her flooded back so fast that it was painful, he told Kassian, but he couldn’t stay away.
“It’s the customers,” Kassian said, tearing up as she stood in front of the furnace of the gift shop. “That’s why I do this.”