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By Renee Bettendorf
WHEELER- “We’re well connected with the soil,” said third generation Christmas Tree Farmer, Cathy Bauer as she and her crew bustled around the farm getting ready for their busiest month.
Cathy owns and operates Conklin Tree Farms along with her husband Adam Bauer and their five children who range in age from 12 to 22. Currently the farm is 80 acres with 40 of those acres in Christmas trees in various stages of maturity.
The Bauers took over the farm in 2014 and as the new generation running the farm, they‘ve brought some fresh ideas to the operation. They’ve been experimenting with different methods in planting, growing, and shearing the trees. Being environmentally friendly is important to them, and so they make an effort to use very few chemicals in and around the trees.
“Adam and I make it a point to try to grow our trees as green as possible,” said Cathy.
One of their main focuses right now is education about the trees and what it’s like to be a grower through an FFA program called Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs). Students who participate in the SAEs program gain hands-on experience in agricultural careers.
The Bauers are involved with the Boyceville FFA Chapter and with the Boyceville FFA Alumni, working with students to do SAEs projects and teaching them about what it takes to own a tree farm and grow Christmas trees.
For anyone interested in growing trees, Cathy is a seasoned resource since she’s been working on the farm her whole life.
“I was born in 1982,” said Cathy, when asked when she started working on the farm.
While Conklin Tree Farms has been a fixture in the community since the 1970’s, it actually got its start in Minnesota when Cathy’s grandparents, Roger and Sally Conklin, planted their first Christmas trees in Isanti County in the 1950’s.
In its early days, Conklin Tree Farms was a weekend and summer vacation operation with Cathy’s dad, Craig Conklin, helping his parents. The first trees were harvested when Craig was in fifth grade. He skidded the trees out of the field using a horse. Many of those first trees were sold to friends.
Then in 1974 the Conklin family relocated to rural Wheeler and Conklin Tree Farms became a partnership between Cathy’s parents and grandparents. That’s when they decided to go full time into the Christmas tree business and opened many full service tree lots in the area.
When asked how many Christmas tree lots her family operated, Cathy chuckled and said “too many”.
Currently, Conklin Tree Farms sells between 1,000 to 1,500 fresh cut Christmas trees annually. They also create wreaths, garland, swags, porch pots and centerpieces, which are all made from boughs and pine cones collected on the farm.
Cathy’s mom, Mary Anne, started making wreaths for the farm in the 1970’s and it’s still a major part of the farm today. In addition to selling their line of handmade pine bough decor, they also work with several service organizations, providing wreaths and trees for fundraising projects. The Boyceville Music Parents Association, a couple of scout troops in Elk Mound and Eau Claire and a 4-H club to name a few.
Mary Anne was also integral in adding vegetables to the farm in the 1970’s. At one point the Conklins had 15 acres in produce and the official name of the farm was Conklin Tree Farms and Gardens. At that time they sold a wide variety of produce at farmers markets and on the farm.
“We were very diversified,” said Mary Anne of the variety of produce they grew.
In 1994 the farm stopped growing produce when Cathy’s parents took a different career path and became Methodist ministers. They retired in 2022 and now come back to the farm to help.
During their time with the ministry, Craig and Mary Anne worked in many different parts of the state. At first they were in Prairie Farm and Cathy’s parents drove her to the farm to help. Later they would move to Neilsville, by that time Cathy could drive, so she commuted back to the farm on weekends and then spent her summer vacations there.
In addition to running the farm, Cathy and her husband both work for the Boyceville School District. Cathy is a bus driver and Adam is a bus mechanic.
“We have a hard time sitting still,” said Cathy of their busy schedule.
Producing Christmas trees is a year round job with most trees spending between eight and 10 years on the farm. Each spring, usually in March, the Bauers transplant seedlings that they purchase from local reputable nurseries. They plant three types of fir trees, three types of spruce as well as white pine. Each tree has to be sheared annually during the summer.
The Bauers also transplant a lot of larger trees. In the spring and fall they dig trees on their farm and pot them up. These trees are then sold to people who use them as windbreaks, green fencing or animal habitat.
They have the capability to transplant a 10 foot tall conifer or a three and a half inch diameter hardwood tree. They transplant trees within an hour and a half of the farm using custom built equipment. Moving existing trees for property owners is also something they do.
Conklin Tree Farms is open by appointment year round. Until December 22 they are open 9am to 5pm on the weekends and 9am to 2pm and 5pm to 7pm on weekdays.