Celebrating the Last Season of Birch Meadow Farm Christmas Trees
By Emily Bontrager
Birch Meadow Farm is a 100 acre farm owned by Berkley and Luetta Barton of Schuyler County. For many years, the couple has grown and sold Christmas trees during the holiday season, sharing Christmas memories with many families.
Berkley and Luetta decided that the 2023 Christmas season was their last year selling Christmas trees on their farm.
Luetta, 82, grew up in Schuyler County and graduated from Lancaster High School in 1959. Over the years, she was a stay at home mom, worked in a beauty shop, and did some factory work.
Berkley, 80, grew up in Pike County, Illinois. He graduated from Pleasant Hill High School in 1962 and served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1970. He worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service for many years and he was working in the Schuyler County area when he met Luetta.
Berkley ended up working down in Armstrong, Missouri with a Missouri Department of Conservation forester named Clell Solomon. This is where Berkley learned about how to grow Christmas trees.
“Clell had a Christmas tree farm and he really appreciated it,” Berkley recalled.
“He knew more about trees, but we both had problems with them.”
“Berk worked for him for several years and that’s how it got in his blood,” Luetta said.
In 1998, Berkley and Luetta decided to start growing their own Christmas trees on their farm.
In 2005, the couple started selling the Christmas trees after they both retired.
The trees were spread across 30 acres and provided families with a place to go pick out their own Christmas tree for the holiday season.
Over the years, the couple grew different types of Christmas trees on their farm, including Scotch pine, spruce, Fraser fir, and white pines.
“The standard Christmas tree is not native to North America. They are known as Scotch pine and they originated in Scotland. When we brought them over here, everybody that grows Scotch pine has trouble with diseases and insects,” Berkley explained.
“White pine is native, so they have a few problems, but not near like the Scotch,” Luetta added.
The trees were available for purchase from Thanksgiving to Christmas each year. The Barton’s hired a few helpers each year to help with the trees.
On average, most customers would pick out a tree that was six to seven feet tall.
“The largest tree we sold this year was 21 feet tall. It went to a courtyard over at Milan,” Berkley said.
“We are not selling much more than 250 trees a year. We started much larger than that and we offered trees for wholesale for clubs and various people.”
“When we were wholesaling, everything had to be out of here before Thanksgiving. We have sold to various groups,” Luetta added.
“We even sold some down to Columbia to the forestry department at the school because they had trouble with their trees, and they were needing some for their tree sales.”
One year, Luetta decided to start making wreaths and swags out of greenery. She sold about 100 wreaths and swags each season and each one looked different every year.
When she first started, Luetta did not know anything about how to make a wreath or a swag.
“We bought a wreath machine and went down to Clell’s and he sent us home with some greenery. My husband showed me how to put a wad in there and push the lever and clamp it together. It has been a learning experience,” Luetta laughed.
“It was a labor of love for Lu. Lu’s were just special because they could tell they were handmade. She would stand there and if a bug had bit a needle, she was in there clipping that out one needle at a time,” Berkley added.
Most of the customers that visited the Christmas tree farm were from out of town. The farthest a Christmas tree traveled from Birch Meadow Farm was to Florida. The tree was purchased by a deer hunter who was hunting in the area.
Many memories have been shared over the years between the customers and the Barton’s.
One of Berkley’s favorite memories was about a regular customer who bought a tree from them for several years.
“I was apologizing because the trees were showing the effects of bugs and diseases,” Berkley said.
“She turned and faced me, and she got right in my face, ‘Berk, we don’t care what that tree looks like. We are out here for the experience and the fun of it and the meaning of Christmas.’”
Luetta remembers seeing a lot of small vehicles with Christmas trees on top of their cars each year.
“One year we had a family from Memphis, and it was a nice warm day. She wanted to get a Christmas tree and he wanted to go for a motorcycle ride. So, they tied their little trailer on and came up here. They had an eight foot tree stuck in that thing,” Luetta laughed.
At the end of 2023, Berkley and Luetta decided that it would be their last season selling Christmas trees.
The Barton’s encourage others who might want to learn about growing Christmas trees to join a Christmas tree association group. These groups help newcomers to learn about growing the trees.
The couple would like to thank every customer that purchased Christmas trees over the years from their farm and who helped support their business.
“It’s been fun through the years. The ups and the downs and the good die hard customers that come back every year,” Luetta said.
“We have just enjoyed it so much and we have had the privilege of being a part of a lot of people’s Christmas. That meant a lot,” Berkley said.
“I want people to know that we did appreciate them.”