by Tammy Sakry
The jingling bells fill the air as families wander the Ramsey tree fields looking for just the right tree to take home.
While the wagon rides are new this year, Hansen Tree Farm has been part of family holiday traditions for 60 years.
When his father, Henry Hansen, purchase the 40-acre property in 1952, the Christmas tree industry was just starting to change, said Mark Hansen, co-owner of the tree family.
His father decided to put his knowledge as a University of Minnesota professor of forestry to work in the field, he said.
For 10 years, Henry, along with wife Charlotte, father-in-law Harry Lindquist and his oldest son Trygg, planted spruces, Scotch pine and Norway pines.
They also experimented with Austrian pine and Ponderosa pine, Hansen said.
Until the mid-1950s, Christmas trees were imported from the north woods and trucked to tree lots, he said.
“Trees were not raised for Christmas trees,” Hansen said.
They were just cut from the forests, he said.
His dad was in on the beginning of the new Christmas tree industry in Minnesota as well as doing research on it for the university, Hansen said.
“The farm was started to finance college for (us) three boys,” said Dave Hansen, Mark’s older brother and co-owner of the tree farm, in a press release.
The farm opened to customers in the 1960s.
Mark Hansen was about 10 or 12 at the time.
He would help customers cut their trees and drag them back to the front of the property, Mark Hansen said.
After a few years, the trees became too large for Christmas trees and other life activities took the family’s attention away from the farm, according to Mark Hansen.
His dad, who died in 2005, thought of the property “as a managed forest within a city, similar to Scandinavia where he did research for 25 years,” said Dave Hansen, a University of Minnesota agriculture department photojournalist.
In 1982, the Hansen brothers decided to make a go of the farm again.
They were in the late 20s, said Mark Hansen.
Before they could reopen the farm to customers, the pair had to clear some of the older trees and plant new trees.
“You don’t see income for about 10 years” after replanting, Mark Hansen said.
The family also struggled against many obstacles, including drought, insects, adjoining wetland fire and encroaching development, including an eminent domain threat for a road that would have cut through the neighborhood, according to Dave Hansen.
For the most part, the tree farm is a hobby for the family, including their kids, Mark Hansen said.
All the kids have worked on the farm at some point, he said.
The Hansens also get a little help from the Boy Scouts.
In October, Mark Hansen takes Boy Scout Troop 17, St. Paul, to a Cambridge farm to help trim boughs and other work.
The troop camps out the weekend before Halloween, cuts the boughs and helps make wreaths for the Hansen Tree Farm, Mark Hansen said.
Mark Hansen has volunteered with the troop since his youngest son was a member.
On the farm
Dec. 2, Joani Sesenburg, Minneapolis, was at the tree farm to pick up a tree, wreath and Christmas sausage, which was made from a recipe the Hansens inherited from their grandfather, Harry Lindquist.
Sesenburg’s family has been making the trip to Ramsey since 1995, she said.
While there are places closer to them that sell trees more cheaply, coming to Hansen Tree Farm is an experience, Sesenburg said while watching Mark Hansen make a custom wreath for her.
Sesenburg, who runs a non-profit, said it is also about supporting family businesses.
She is one of more than 800 families that will travel to the tree farm this year.
“We are hoping to sell 1,000 trees this year. Last year, we sold 800,” Mark Hansen said.
The best part of the job is providing people with a good product, he said.
While all of the trees raised on Hansen Tree Farm make good Christmas trees, Mark Hansen’s favorite is the balsam fir.
“It goes up easy, smells good and the needles stay on the tree,” he said.
“Fraser firs, similar to the balsam, are becoming popular because of their darker green (color) and longer needles,” said Mark Hansen, who works at University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus for the U.S. Forest Service.
After finding the perfect tree at the Hansen Tree Farm, families can warm up with a hot beverage and toast their toes by a camp fire.
They can also browse in the gift shop, which features Minnesota artists as well as Minnesota products, like maple syrup and wild rice. Mark Hansen said.
Or play in the log cabin playhouse, he said.
This year Leif and Boone, two Norwegian Fjord horses, provided short wagon rides around the farm.
For more information on Hansen Tree Farm, check out the website http://hansentreefarm.com or call 651-214-2305.