Bill Holesinger and Mike DeBerg (left) wrap a Christmas tree for a customer at Timber Lane Christmas Tree Farm. The family-owned and -operated Christmas tree farm and the TLC Country Store sells precut and cut-your-own Christmas trees and decorated wreaths. The Holesinger family pays it forward by raising funds for Unity Christian School in Fulton, Ill.
Bill Holesinger and Mike DeBerg (left) wrap a Christmas tree for a customer at Timber Lane Christmas Tree Farm. The family-owned and -operated Christmas tree farm and the TLC Country Store sells precut and cut-your-own Christmas trees and decorated wreaths. The Holesinger family pays it forward by raising funds for Unity Christian School in Fulton, Ill.

FULTON, Ill. — “Blessing” is a word commonly heard around the Timber Lane Christmas Tree Farm — and not just when talking about the Christmas season.

Blessings are something the Holesinger family talks about receiving through its journey building up its Christmas tree farm and craft consignment shop. The family pays those blessings forward through the farm business.

“It’s been a blessing,” is a phrase that Bill Holesinger, who operates the farm with his parents, Richard and Judy, who own the farm, and Bill’s wife, Donna, and their three sons, Dustin, Devin and Dayne, says frequently. He uses it to describe the farm’s beginnings all the way up to current business.

“We say Merry Christmas,” said Holesinger as cars and trucks pulled into the driveway and families piled out, some to choose a tree from the Canaan firs, concolor firs and Scotch pines or white pines, hand-decorated wreaths and swags or homemade craft items from the TLC Country Store.

The business of selling real Christmas trees is booming in this part of northwest Illinois, with customers coming from the Quad Cities, from across the river in Iowa and from the Whiteside and Carroll county areas to choose a live tree.

The farm is a four-generation family grain and livestock farm, although the family doesn’t raise cattle anymore.

When Bill Holesinger returned to the farm in 1989 after attending Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, to farm with his father, he knew that the 800 acres the two families were farming needed to be supplemented.

“Our school, Unity Christian School, had a fundraiser with another tree farm about three miles from here. He was needing some help, so I went over to help with the fundraiser,” Holesinger said.

He hadn’t planned on a career in agriculture. When his older brother, Brad, died unexpectedly at age 23, he changed his college major from accounting to agriculture and knew his future would be farming.

Helping out with the fundraiser led to a part-time job offer and an idea for Holesinger.

“The blessing of how we got started was I was working there and when he got ready to close down for good, he let me hand out flyers saying that we were going to be open the next year,” he said.

The family had other reasons for wanting to start its own tree farm. The rotation of Christmas trees with growing corn and soybeans fit well together.

“It fit with the pattern of farming. I could plant trees, go plant corn. Go work with the trees, then go spray corn and then come back to the trees, trim them up, go harvest corn, come back and harvest trees,” Holesinger said.

He and his wife also wanted their sons — the youngest, Dayne, was then 4 years old — to learn about hard work the farm way.

“I wanted something for my kids to learn how to work. When I was growing up, we baled hay, but there’s not that anymore,” Holesinger said.

There aren’t as many tractor jobs, and we didn’t have livestock, so there weren’t livestock chores to do.”

In 2002, the family started its journey, planting 600 trees. The pattern, even now, uses elements of row-crop agriculture.

The trees are planted in a six-foot by six-foot “check” pattern, the same way corn used to be planted to allow for cultivation.

“We mark the holes, and then we go out and dig them by hand and plant the trees by hand,” Holesinger explained.

The first year of sales was in 2006, with the family utilizing the trees from nearby farms that had closed down.

“They were close by, and we could go cut them daily as we needed them. They wanted to help out, so it was a blessing,” Holesinger said.

This is the fourth year of offering the cut-your-own option, which has been popular with families. Sales of real trees are brisk in the Nov. 23 to Dec. 23 timeframe in which the farm is open.

The Canaan firs and the concolors are the most popular trees this year, Holesinger said.

“We were just short of 900 last year, and I have a feeling we’ll be at or close to that this year. My goal is 1,500 eventually,” he said.

That includes first-time shoppers for real Christmas trees.

“We’ve had a lot of new people come out, about 15 percent of our business this year has been new customers,” Holesinger said.

“We’re doing more advertising,” he said, which includes a Facebook page and a website.

Timber Lane Christmas Tree Farm also is a member of the Illinois Christmas Tree Association and Mid-America Tree Association.

Another blessing has been the TLC Country Store, which offers items created by local crafters.

“We have about 50 different consigners here. The amazing part of opening the store up was that we didn’t know that many people did this sort of thing. We went with the consignment, and it’s been a blessing,” said Judy Holesinger, Bill’s mother.

The family members’ faith sustains them, and one of the most difficult decisions, when they entered the Christmas tree business, involved the days they would be open. The month-long season of sales leaves little time for days off.

“The hardest decision was whether or not to be open on Sundays, but I found, through working at the other tree farm, that’s one of the busiest days,” Bill Holesinger said.

Indeed, he noted that the farm sold 105 trees from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a recent Saturday and, with hours from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, sold 104 trees.

The family members aren’t one to rest on their blessings, though. They count them and pay them forward.

The blessings from the Christmas tree farm continue throughout the year in the form of a fundraiser the Holesingers host for Unity Christian School.

“The kids and parents of the athletic boosters and the drama club sign up to work on the weekends. The hours that they work, I pay to the booster clubs,” Holesinger said. “It’s a fundraiser for the athletic boosters and the drama club.”

Last year, the fundraiser earned some $3,000 for the two clubs.

“It’s fun to see the kids interacting with the customers,” Judy Holesinger said.

“Our customers how come out enjoy working with the kids,” Bill Holesinger added.

The farm currently has 15 acres of trees with a total of some 15,000 trees. This past spring, Bill and Mike DeBerg, the farm’s part-time employee, planted about 2,600 trees in two weeks.

Holesinger said that the summer drought did impact the farm, but agreed with other tree farmers that the full impact may not be seen for years.

“We had about 10 percent of our new seedlings survive. Probably the biggest challenge is going to be what happens this coming year as far as the growing season. If we have two bad years in a row, that’s really going to affect the trees,” he said.

He added that Christmas trees are especially sensitive to heat, due to their native surroundings.

“The biggest thing is temperature and how hot it gets. Most of these trees grow naturally in the mountains, so we’ve moved them out of the mountains and higher elevations into hotter temperatures and hotter soils,” he said.

When he’s not wearing his festive Santa hat, Holesinger continues to farm, and he also works as a salesman for Ag Spectrum in DeWitt, Iowa, and recently earned his license to sell life insurance.

The family members credit hard work and their customers for the success of their Christmas ventures, but they also recognize the source of the blessings that have come their way.

“The Lord keeps working,” Holesinger said.