Leelanau News and Events

Popular Christmas Tree Farm Feeling the Squeeze

By Art Bukowski | Dec. 8, 2023

One of the county’s most popular and beloved Christmas tree farms may need to shut down for the season soon due to dwindling inventory, and the problem may have them in a bind next year, too.

It’s easy to see why Kolarik Christmas Tree Farm is a hit with people from across the region. Affordable prices, friendly faces and a genuinely idyllic setting in the middle of gently rolling fields and orchards have given this place considerable buzz over the last decade or so. Hundreds of families head out to his quaint, working farm on the family’s namesake Kolarik Road every year as part of their Christmas tradition.

As it turns out, that popularity has become somewhat of a problem. While they’ve got about 20 acres of trees in various stages, the past few years have put a major pinch on their stock of trees in the ideal size range.

“Eight to 10 years ago, which is about the amount of time it takes to grow like a seven- or eight-foot tree, we didn’t plant enough trees to keep up with the increased demand of today,” Chris Kolarik tells The Ticker. “So for this year and probably the next couple of years, we are really encouraging new customers to seek trees elsewhere, because we don’t have enough.”

While there’s no way of knowing for sure who’s a returning customer or not, the Kolarik family hopes to save their remaining trees of the appropriate size for families that have visited them in past years.

“It’s hard to predict, but we’re probably three to four years out (from plenty of inventory),” Kolarik says. “It’s hard to cut people off or turn people away, so what we’ve settled on for now is that we want to be loyal to our customers from the past. If it’s your first time, there are some other options around the community.”

While plenty of customers certainly like the Kolarik farm in is own right, a resurgence in the real tree trend may also be a factor. 

“Artificial trees were popular for a while, but honestly I think real trees are making a big comeback and are becoming much more popular now,” Kolarik says. “Part of it is the experience of going out and cutting down or picking out your own. And of course you’re buying something natural, a natural product that’s locally grown.”

The Kolarik family has deep roots in the county, stretching back to the mid-19th century. And while they’ve farmed a variety of items over the decades – mostly cherries – the tree operation is relatively new.  Chris’ father Jerome started it about 20 years ago on a whim, and it’s turned into something that provides perhaps as much joy to their family as it has to the thousands of people who have cut a tree there over the years.

“It’s great to see the smiles on everyone when they come out, especially the kids. Families in particular like to come out to cut their own trees," Chris says. "They drive around, spend time with the family, pick a nice tree out – just really enjoy the experience.”

But while all the cliches apply in regards to smiling faces and warm holiday cheer, the operation – like most agricultural endeavors – is also full of challenges and strenuous work. Chris has noticed that people seem to assume that tree growing involves much less work than other crops, but he says that’s far from the case.

“Many people have the perception that it’s as simple as putting some trees in the ground, and eight years later you have some beautiful Christmas trees, but it’s not quite that easy,” Chris says. “There’s a significant amount of labor in the summer months with fertilizing, mowing, weed control, watering, hand picking new growth cones off certain varieties, and of course pruning.”

And the selling season itself is also not for the faint of heart. 

“It’s a pretty demanding job physically, to be able to hang through the whole season. It gets pretty taxing after four or five weeks,” he says. “Come here on a day when it’s heavy wet snow or a cold rain and work all day, and believe me, you’ll be happy to see that last customer and finally close the booth for the day.”

But they still look foward to it year after year, and will do moreso once their stock is back up and more people can again soak up the experience. 

"Part of the fun up here is having people come from so many miles away," Chris says. "Everyone loves to come up here, and part of the draw is we've got that real authentic feel...we're a real working farm, with plenty of places to take pictures in front of to give you that old farmy feel."

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