Schwarck’s tree farm also bringing green to family’s children

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 30, 2000


Thursday, November 30, 2000

ST. ANSGAR, Iowa – John Osgood still sells Christmas trees at his "choose and cut" farm along the Cedar River.

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Les Turner, the retired St. Ansgar Community Schools principal, does not. The demands of caring for his wife, a multiple sclerosis victim, do not allow him to devote as much time to growing trees as it needs.

The newest grower is the Rick and Holly Schwarck family. They call their business "Holly’s Trees" and it is a family business with a difference.

Profits from the sale of Christmas trees are going to the Schwarck family’s four children to help pay college expenses.

"It’s a project for the kids," said Rick Schwarck.

Rick, a securities broker at Mason City, Iowa, is a native of the Riceville, Iowa area. His wife, Holly, who works as a letter carrier for the Northwood, Iowa U.S. Post Office, is from St. Ansgar.

They have four children: Kate is a junior at St. Ansgar Community High School; Matt is a high school freshman; Reed is in the seventh grade; and Greg is a fourth grader.

Last Friday was the first day of the Holly’s Trees season and all family members were at work.

Osgood sells his "choose and cut" trees on his farm off Mitchell County Highway S70 northwest of St. Ansgar. A short distance away and off S70, the Schwarck family sells their’s. Across the Cedar River from the Schwarck family’s tree farm is where Turner, the "dean" of tree farmers planted and grew Christmas trees for decades until retiring.

"Les is our teacher and we are his students," said Rick. "We started planting when he stopped."

Holly’s Trees opened for business a year ago with a successful debut.

The trees were planted in 1992. Rows upon rows of trees dot the rolling hillsides on the Schwarck farm on the west bank of the Cedar River.

Eight years ago, Rick and Holly decided to start a Christmas tree farm and to make the income available to their children to help pay for future college expenses. For two years each, the children will be in charge of the tree farm and able to collect the profits and apply them to their college savings.

The proceeds from the sales of Scotch pine, the Frazier firs to be planted next year and all the Belgian, French and Colonial England trees – all seedlings from Europe – will go to the children.

In addition, the Black Hills Spruce, so popular to their native Upper Midwest region, will help the Schwarck children grow their college funds.

The plan for shopping for a Christmas tree at Holly’s Trees is simple: grab an orange flag and start walking through the six-foot wide paths around the trees until you find one. Then wave the flag high in the air and Rick or one of the older children will come and saw the tree and carry it back to the office for payment and loading.

Holly’s Trees have two price ranges: $19 plus tax and for the largest ones, $29.75 , plus tax.

Inside a warm metal shed, one of the Schwarck children is ready to take payment or sell some of their mother’s vanilla butter caramels, Christmas wreaths ($17 each), tree stands or tree bags to save an avalanche of needles from falling to living room carpets.

Kate, the oldest child, said she is ready to assume her role as supervisor of the sales operation this winter and the next. "We were all willing to get involved when our parents announced the plan," she said. "Mom did most of it the first year and I just followed along and learned."

Matt, 14 years old, admitted, "There’s quite a lot of work growing the trees" before they are ready for sale each December.

Reed, 12 years old, said the family has also created a hay bale maze for children who don’t want to walk through the snow while their parents decide on a tree.

The most talkative of the Schwarck children, Reed also observed strong feelings about artificial Christmas trees. "I don’t like them. It’s not as much fun as deciding on a real tree and then cutting it down and decorating it," he said.

Greg, 10 years old, said he enjoys helping people pick out trees.

Holly’s Trees is open 4-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. until dusk Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, including directions to Holly’s Trees, call 641-736-2437.