The holiday season is here and to many people that means a multitude of things. The reasons can range from finding the perfect present for that special someone to picking out a recipe for that special dinner. But for the Duane and Marcia Sickels family it means one thing, trees, more particularly Christmas trees.
In the beginning, the Sickels set up shop at their family farm just north of Lynn, Indiana, but soon outgrew their location. They moved to US highway 27 just 6 miles south of Winchester where after 27 years and thousands and thousands of trees being planted, their family has helped thousands of families make lasting memories from all over the area.
The day after Thanksgiving always brings the busiest time of year to Duane and Marcia and their employees as this is opening day. No, not opening day of baseball season, but opening day for picking out the biggest and best Christmas tree. On this day, that even if the weather is sub par, brings families out in droves to get first dibs on what they think is the perfect tree for their home. Looking for the right tree you can choose from Fraser Fir, Blue Spruce, Scotch Pine, White Pine and Canaan Fir from their bountiful fields.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting this free range family Christmas tree farm yet, let me set the stage for you. There are a few ways you can go about experiencing Sickels Tree Farm. You must first drive down a long lane, lined on both sides with trees of all sizes ranging from 4 to 14 foot tall, to a big pole barn that houses the operations where the excursion begins.
Your first visit option, the most popular option, includes families venturing out into the tree fields to harvest their own tree. Depending on the weather, families are bundled up in their warmest clothes and boots to trek out into the fields along with their provided handsaw and tree hauler to find the right tree. Whether its a short, squatty tree or a tall, slender tree, you will surely find it in their fields. Bringing in the prized tree, families can even get a free photo taken alongside their find to share in the memory.
Another option is the balled and burlap trees. Out front of the barn you will see the hustle and bustle of a mix of employees and tree seekers. Right outside the front door you will find their variety of balled and burlap trees. Choosing this way is for those wanting to not only get a fresh tree, but want to get a tree that can be planted for many years of enjoyment this is your option. While outside don’t forget to visit the goats in the petting zoo.
Moving on into the barn right inside the front door is the gift shop. This is where you find all the trimmings needed to decorate not only your new tree but your whole house, both indoors and outdoors. By opening day, their cozy gift shop is stocked with beautiful and unique ornaments and fresh evergreen table top trees and arrangements. They also have several handmade items, products and food from local artisans. Those include cutting boards, wood pieces and pottery. Don’t forget the locally produced honey, maple syrup and wool items. One thing you cannot forget to grab in the gift shop, while waiting on your tree to be prepared or just strolling around the farm, the fresh hot cider. From the beginning, this popular treat has been a fan favorite for all those visiting the farm.
Move onto the next room of the barn you will find other fresh options. What door front isn’t complete without a beautiful evergreen wreath? Well they can help there to! The staff has prepared wreaths with or without bows, roping and grave blankets as well. If you need to ship a gift to someone special, Sickels also mails products for you. In this big section of the barn you will also find a large selection of pre-cut trees for those wanting a fresh tree but not wanting to roam out into the field.
Whichever tree harvesting option you choose, the Sickels family tree makes sure that tree gets top notch care before you take it home. Families can watch as their tree go through a process of having their tree shook first to remove the previous year’s needles. Then having a hole drilled into the trunk of the tree to use with a tree stand purchased at the farm. One bonus about this option is you can bring back the tree stand year after year to use. Already have your own stand? No problem, they will skip the drill hole and move onto the baling process for your tree’s safe trip home.
For some reason I am feeling very festive this year. I am not sure if there is an exact reason why but rather multiple reasons. Traveling past the farm on Saturday, I suggested we get a real tree this year. Wanting to mark our first “official” Christmas as a married couple with a fresh balled and burlap tree to plant and commemorate the occasion like so many choose to do, we knew exactly where to go to get this memory started, so we loaded up and headed south to Sickels Tree Farm. Arriving, we soon noticed we weren’t the only ones with the same idea. Even though the weather was not perfect for picking out a tree, the long lane was lined with cars and trucks and the fields were filled with families picking out the perfect pine. It was so heartwarming to see so many not only taking in this great family tradition but also supporting a great family business located right here in Randolph County.
When looking for our tree, even though they had a wide selection, we didn’t see what we exactly wanted so we wandered on into the barn. Looking around we looked at one tree and then onto a second and when they pulled out the second it was like the bells and whistles sounded, the tree had certain glow about it and it was “the” tree. We agreed and said load her up. I went on into the gift shop but was soon stopped on the way in by none other than Duane himself. Perched on his stool, he was in charge of lining up the trees and drilling in the holes before adhering the stand. Sharing a couple of stories, you can truly tell Duane loves this business and this time of year. Not only because this farm is successful, but because they are making a difference in so many peoples lives.
A little backstory, I have had the pleasure of knowing Duane and Marcia since they started the farm at their home. I will never forget Duane’s creativity that he has shown over the years. In speaking to Marcia, Duane actually had the idea of the light show that now appears at the tree farm for its third year. This is one of the better ideas that Duane has had in regards to enhancing the tree farm. One not so good idea that we still joke about is the first time he decided to spray paint a tree. Wanting to make this tree stand out but keep with the Christmas colored theme, he painted it red. Well in theory it was a good idea, but visually it looked like the tree hadn’t been watered for years or had been burnt. But that didn’t keep Duane from painting another one, red, white and blue. Still great in theory, but still not visually good. When asked our opinions, Marcia and I both agreed, he needed to find another idea.
In speaking with Duane, he said he couldn’t believe this year’s turnout already. On Friday alone he stated that they sold almost 450 trees in one day. “We were 25-30 trees behind all day,” Duane said. “This is by far their best opening day ever,” Marcia said. Marcia went on to explain that they have actually had trees travel to Chicago, Florida and even Texas from their farm.
On Monday, Duane and Marcia had the privilege of visiting the Indiana Statehouse with their fabulous trees; one now sits proudly in the Secretary of State’s Office and one in the State Auditor’s Office. In 2018, they had the honor of hosting one of their trees in the Governor’s Office.
The trees are not just honored at the Statehouse but also at the State Fair. The couple’s hard work over the years has paid off with top honors receiving awards like the Champion Tree. Marcia credit’s not only their own hard work year round, but also credit the 20 or so employees that form the Sickels Tree Farm team. “We have such a good group of seasonal employees that we just appreciate everything they do for us to make this such a success. Without them none of this could happen.” I tend to agree with this comment. Our experience yesterday was made so easy by the multiple friendly helpers that you walk away thinking why don’t we do this every year.
November and December are not the only times you can enjoy Sickels Tree Farm. In the fall they have different weekends when you can go and pick out pumpkins and fall decorating items. Also, April brings seedling day where you can go and purchase your own tree to start growing for a future tree in 7-8 years.