Ready or not, here it comes.
The holiday season is almost upon us, bringing the joy of celebration or the headaches of a long “to-do” list. Some Nebraskans would like to take the word hectic out of the holidays by providing local options to make family traditions special without the hassle.
At the Chisholm Family Farm near Elmwood, Neb., that means homegrown turkeys to dress the holiday table. Andy and Laura Chisholm and their five children run a small, pasture-based farm between Lincoln and Omaha. They produce a variety of products including grass-fed beef, pork, milk, eggs, cheese and poultry. And free-range turkeys are always on the menu for the holidays.
This year, drought took a toll on turkey producers like the Chisholm’s. They started with 40 birds but only 25 managed to survive. All of those are already spoken for.
“We sold out quickly,” said Laura Chisholm. “Our fresh turkey tastes amazing and the same people order from us year after year because they are so good.”
The Christmas gift list is another area with a variety of homegrown options.
At the From Nebraska store in Lincoln, owner Connie Mahaney is gearing up for the holiday season. The shelves are filled with Nebraska crafts and goodies, from jellies and jams to t-shirts and toys. Food baskets are the most popular item, making up about 40 percent of the store’s holiday sales. Mahaney ships food baskets all over the world.
“We’ve sent Dorothy Lynch Salad Dressing to soldiers in Iraq,” Mahaney said. “Or the kids move away and Mom and Dad will send a gift basket of items from home.”
Nebraska wines are also popular. And available for tasting. The tasting bar in the store is made out of an old grain bin and Mahaney pours samples from some of the 18 wines sold at the store. She said a visitor from Manitoba, Canada, dropped by recently to pick up a bottle of wine from Cuthills Vineyard near Pierce that he had tasted on a previous trip to Nebraska.
Mahaney enjoys waiting on a global customer base. Whether in town for a football game or a conference at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, visitors are usually in a good mood and ready to shop for postcards or popcorn.
“Last week, we had folks here from Brazil and Colorado,” she said. “Our first question when someone walks in the door is always, ‘Where are you from?’”
And when the gifts are purchased and wrapped, Dennis Adams is hoping they are placed under a Christmas tree from a Nebraska tree farm.
Adams owns and operates Walnut Grove Tree Farm near Davey, Neb. He offers a variety of trees including Scotch Pines, Austrian Pines, White Pine, Spruce and Douglas Firs. His wife and four sons help with the choose-and-cut operation that opens the day after Thanksgiving. After customers cut down their own tree, machines shake out the loose needles and put a net over the tree. The Adams boys trim the tree and tie it onto the customer’s vehicle.
For many customers, a trip to Walnut Grove is a family tradition. Adams just received an e-mail from a long-time customer. This year, the customer will arrive with a tractor pulling a hayrack filled with family and friends.
“We have customers who have been coming since we started selling trees in 1990,” said Adams. “They brought their kids and now the kids are grown up and bringing their own children.”
Adams planted his first seedlings in 1983. A cabin on the property that dates back to 1939 was gutted and remodeled to serve as the headquarters for the tree farm operation. Soon the cabin will be decorated for the holidays and ready to entertain the customers who drop in to pay for their trees and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or hot apple cider.
This was a challenging summer for Adams, because of the heat and drought. He lost 100 percent of the fir seedlings he planted and only 20 percent of the pines survived. But plenty of beautiful, fresh trees are ready for the holiday season.
Adams said fresh trees are popular because they are fragrant and, if properly cared for, will last for months. Consumers should put a fresh cut tree into water as soon as possible and then treat it like cut flowers by making sure it gets plenty of water. Adams said big trees can absorb a gallon or two of water a day at first so it’s important to keep an eye on the water level and don’t let it drop.
For more information about fresh Christmas trees and where to find the nearest tree farm, visit the Nebraska Christmas Tree Growers Association website at www.NebraskaChristmasTreeGrowers.com. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture also offers information about trees and a holiday gift guide with ideas for Nebraska food products. Both listings are available online at www.Agr.NE.gov or by calling (800) 422-6692. ❖