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Episode 24: Agritourism with Jeff Reese of Kaleidoscope Farms

Kaleidoscope Farm is a Christmas tree farm that has been in the Reese family for over 54 years. What started out as a way to utilize land not suitable for farming has evolved into an agritourism destination for families seeking the perfect holiday tree with the memory-making experience to go along with it.

“Ultimately, you’re buying a Christmas tree, but what you’re really buying is the experience,” says Jeff Reese, one of the four Reese brothers who owns and operates the Kaleidoscope Christmas tree farm in Mount Cory, Ohio.

Visitors to the farm can take a wagon ride over the river and through the woods, pick out and cut down a tree with a bow saw, have it wrapped, tied and hauled, and enjoy a cup of hot cider while exploring the farm. “We have things on the farm that people don’t see in their day-to-day lives,” says Jeff. “And it’s unique for them to be able to experience the farm.”

Capitalizing on consumer demand for experiences hasn’t always been the vision of Kaleidoscope Farm, but it did help it explode in popularity later.

Before that, Kaleidoscope Farm did a little bit of everything giving it its namesake, including raising Great Pyrenees Sheepdogs, a flock of Horned Dorset sheep, a garden of flowers, mums and herbs, and even shitake mushrooms grown on logs out in the woods.

Jeff jokes his father needed to put his four boys to work and keep them busy all through the year before the farm opened for Christmas tree sales. Even so, their first tree planting on the farm in the spring of ‘83 wouldn’t reap Christmas trees until ten years later.

It’s a long-awaited crop, explains Jeff. “I have to wait a decade.”

This year, the farm planted nearly 5,000 trees – the most it’s ever planted – and anticipates a crop in eight to ten years. All dependent on mother nature, of course.

Drought, flooding and disease have all had their fair share of effects on the farm’s tree harvest in the past, and planning for what the market demand will be in a few years isn’t easy either.

“There’s more demand than there are trees just on a national scale,” says Jeff. “And that is tough because, as a farm, we can’t grow them fast enough.”

Among the favorites are Fraser Fir, Concolor Fir, White Pine, Scotch Pine, Blue Spruce, Norway Spruce, and Black Hills Spruce. Jeff says each has its positives and limitations. Just to give an example, Jeff explains that while “Spruce trees are really beautiful and smell awesome in your house, they drop their needles a lot faster.” And “Concolor firs are hypoallergenic and have a citrusy smell, but are hard to grow.”

While all of that plays into making trees and customers happy, Jeff says that the one thing that’s driven the success of their agritourism business is their mindset – creating an environment where people can be invited to experience agriculture.

Here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [02:40] Jeff shares how his family’s Christmas tree farm, Kaleidoscope Farms, came about as a way to utilize land that wasn’t typically good for farming.
  • [04:08] Jeff explains where the name of the farm comes from.
  • [06:30] Jeff discusses the process of Christmas tree planting to harvest.
  • [08:33] Jeff shares what types of trees are grown on their farm, as well as the type of soil that “makes their trees happy” – which was the opposite of what it was just 20 years ago.
  • [10:35] There are consumer preferences for certain varieties and heights of Christmas trees that Jeff shares.
  • [12:49] On a national scale, demand for real trees and shared family experiences is on the rise since the pandemic and Jeff shares how their farm creates experiences for their visitors.
  • [19:58] Jeff shares more about how they’ve created an agritourism destination in northwest Ohio – which wasn’t always the vision for the business.
  • [22:26] Jeff reveals the perfect timing for picking out and putting up a Christmas tree.
  • [27:00] Jeff covers some logistics of the farm and its history, including how the 2007 flood has affected the business.
  • [28:33] Jeff leaves with advice for those wanting to diversify their farms through agritourism. 

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Learn more about Kaleidocope Farms on their website.

Bios
Guest Jeff Reese
Jeff Reese is a co-owner of Kaleidoscope Farm, a family owned Christmas tree farm near Findlay, OH. Jeff and his family have been farming Christmas trees since the early 1980s and over the years have expanded their business into a local agritourism destination.

Host Phil Young

Phil is an account officer for AgCredit serving Van Wert County. He’s been in ag lending for over four years but his agricultural background goes back much farther. He grew up on his family’s farm where his father raised a large herd of sheep. Currently, he helps with the family farm raising corn, soybeans and wheat. Phil likes working at AgCredit because he can help people achieve their goals. Whether that is purchasing a new piece of farm ground, updating a piece of equipment, or helping a borrower understand their financials, helping his clients succeed is always his goal.

Host Libby Wixtead

Libby has been an account officer for eight years serving AgCredit members in Marion County. She grew up on a 200-acre grain farm and was very active in 4-H and FFA. Today, Libby and her husband operate a 2,400-head swine finishing barn. Her favorite part about working at AgCredit is working with local farmers from the same area where she grew up and seeing their operations thrive. She loves working in agriculture and helping her customers be successful year after year.

Transcription

Voiceover (00:08):Welcome to AgCredit Said It! In each episode, our hosts sit down with experts from all parts of the agriculture industry to bring you insights and must-have information on all things from farming to finances and everything in between.

Libby Wixtead (00:27):Welcome back to another episode of AgCredit Said It! I'm Libby Wixtead.

Phil Young (00:30):And I'm Phil Young, here to bring you another great episode.

Libby Wixtead (00:33):Now Phil, I have one question for you. Are you a fake tree person or a real Christmas tree person?

Phil Young (00:39):As of right now, I'm a fake tree person and that's mainly just because of my kids, because I feel like we'd have needles literally all over our house and my dog would destroy it. And so yeah, we're a fake tree family right now, but hopefully someday, a real tree family. How about you guys?

Libby Wixtead (00:52):We are a fake tree family right now. Again, little kids too, but growing up I had great memories with my family going out to the tree farm and cutting a Christmas tree down and bringing it down. And my parents still to this day have a real Christmas tree every Christmas season.

Phil Young (01:10):Nice.

Libby Wixtead (01:11):Yes. So we sat down with Jeff Reese from Kaleidoscope Farm, which is a Christmas tree farm near Findlay, Ohio. And we had a great conversation about agritourism on his farm and all the great things that they're doing and also how his father started this farm from a change in career. And then also had a succession plan and now all four of the boys of their family are running the Christmas tree farm.

Phil Young (01:41):Yeah, it was cool to listen. You think of Halloween and fall and doing pumpkin patch-type style stuff and going out and doing corn mazes. But I never really thought about, "Hey, there's probably a Christmas tree version of this out there where you can go cut down your own Christmas tree and do events for Christmas." And this is what they do. So Kaleidoscope Farms in Mount Cory, Ohio, you can have a huge experience with cutting down your tree. So excited for you guys to listen to our conversation with Jeff and maybe you'll take a road trip and see him.

Libby Wixtead (02:09):Yeah, and I think the bigger thing, too is that the challenges that they face of their growing season and how they are direct marketing to their consumers and just the pluses and the minuses of everything, of just this tree farm and how different it is than what we know of row crops. So let's get to it. Welcome, Jeff.

Jeff Reese (02:33):Thanks for having me.

Libby Wixtead (02:34):We're happy that you're here. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and some background about your guys' farm?

Jeff Reese (02:40):Yeah, I'm Jeff Reese, I'm with Kaleidoscope Farms. We have a family-owned Christmas tree farm in Northwest Ohio and we've been doing it for, well, really as long as I've been alive. I'm an identical twin. So my parents had two boys and my dad's dream was always to put us to work and so he was trying to figure out the most labor-intensive operation he could come up with. And he had settled on a Christmas tree farm on some old pasture ground that had never been tilled. He was big into conservation practices and things like that. And he was trying to come up with good ways to utilize land that wasn't necessarily good for typical farming. And so went out on a limb, purchased this land, planted a whole bunch of trees, and then had two more boys.

Jeff Reese (03:32):So they planted the trees in the spring of '83. My brother and I were born in November and then all of a sudden you have four boys and a new offshoot business that is very labor intensive. It's a big upfront cost because you plant trees and then you plant trees and then you mow trees and then you plant trees and hopefully you don't mow off trees. And so you do all of this work before you ever really get a return on your investment. So I always joke that my dad picked a model, he was either going to kill us, put us to work, or go crazy and two of those things happened.

Phil Young (04:08):That's awesome. Well, first off, your farm is called Kaleidoscope Farms.

Jeff Reese (04:12):Yes.

Phil Young (04:12):Where did the name come from? I'm really curious.

Jeff Reese (04:14):So it's a little bit off or a misnomer now because we don't do all these things. But when we started out, again, to make ends meet and do all this, because my mom jokes too, she doesn't remember anything for the first ten years of our lives. It was just pure insanity all the time.

Phil Young (04:32):I’m a twin as well.

Jeff Reese (04:33):Really?

Phil Young (04:33):That's what my mom says as well. Since we were born it's like, I don't remember.

Jeff Reese (04:36):No, anybody you ask. What's it like raising twins? And she goes, "I honestly don't know." Write it down because you won't remember anything if you don't write it down. There you go. Tidbit for anybody, a parent of twins, write it down because there won't be advice otherwise.

Phil Young (04:52):She was just happy we were alive.

Jeff Reese (04:54):That's right. We made it through another day. It was like, "Woo succeeded."

Phil Young (04:57):Yeah.

Jeff Reese (04:59):But Kaleidoscope Farms was Christmas tree farms. We raised great Pyrenees sheepdogs, we had a flock of Horn Dorset sheep, we had dried flowers, mom had herbs, we raised mums, shiitake mushrooms is another weird one that we did and we still dabble in the shiitake mushrooms. There are still some logs out in the woods that produce some, but we did all of these things. And again, it goes back to the tree farm, which was still getting started, so we still needed lots of jobs for the boys to do. So cutting dried flowers in the middle of August or doing things like that and keeping us busy all through the year before the farm officially opened. We did a lot of those things and as the tree farm has grown, most of those things have died down quite a bit because the tree farm exploded and there really wasn't time to do those other things, plus boys and sports and all the stuff that we got into that filled that space for us.

Phil Young (06:04):Got you. And where are you guys located?

Jeff Reese (06:06):We're just outside of Mount Cory. So we're three miles off of I-75, the Mount Cory exit there, just north of that, but in the middle of nowhere. But that's part of the charm. There's a stream that runs through, we have a bridge that crosses that. So some years you literally get to go over the river and through the woods to pick out your Christmas tree.

Phil Young (06:28):That's awesome.

Jeff Reese (06:29):Yeah.

Libby Wixtead (06:30):So can you share, how long does it take you from planting a tree to cutting it down as a Christmas tree?

Jeff Reese (06:39):So we planted about 5,000 trees this year, which was the most we've ever planted. And then we had a drought, so we lost over a thousand of those, which really stinks. But what that is is, we're anticipating a crop in eight to 10 years…

Libby Wixtead (06:54):Oh my gosh.

Jeff Reese (06:55):... for those trees. So in a perfect world, if I could wait ten years for every tree that I planted, so say we lost a thousand, I'm going to replant those thousand trees this coming spring. So those will all be a year younger than the ones that now have an established root system. They should be very well-versed to survive adversity. So they should thrive in a good year. So the ones we plant this spring are definitely going to be handicapped compared to those. So if I can wait ten years and replant just a couple of years in between, then the first year trees should be 10, 12 feet tall, which a lot of people like. And then the trees that I planted after that should be at least eight to nine feet tall. So now I have every tree in that section should be sellable and then I can clean it out, and replant it.

Jeff Reese (07:51):But what ends up happening is we have to cut trees out maybe at eight years or nine years. And then I have six-foot tall trees or five-foot tall trees. So then I have to leave them, let them sit a year, and get another foot taller. And so that the mapping out of all those things is not ... Like if you mess up and you're like, "I shouldn't have planted corn this year." Next year, you just fix it. I don't get that luxury. I have to wait a decade and remember what my screw-up was and then fix it. Many varieties are that way. Pines like wet ground, fir trees like sandy ground. So sometimes it takes that rotation, but before we were like, "Shouldn't have planted those there."

 

Phil Young (08:30):Yeah. That was my next question, how many varieties do you guys have?

Jeff Reese (08:33):So currently on our farm we have Canaan Fir, and Fraser Fir which we have a hard time growing because our soil is actually very alkaline and they very acidic. Fun fact, we used to have acid rain. When I was a kid, they talked about how all our monuments were going to be eroded away because of all the acid rain. Now we have more alkaline rain, which then I have to combat because we have limestone and all of that in our soil. So I actually have to add sulfur and acidic material to our soils to make our trees happy. And it's just funny because we talk about environmentalism and we're on a farm, we do a lot of conservation programs. Well, a lot of those things are working, nobody's really talking about those things. But we see it very deliberately in our soil sampling because we can't get our pH down to where the trees like it because we're combating literally the rain, which is a crazy thing. Whereas 20 years ago, the opposite of that was true.

Jeff Reese (09:34):So all of that plays into factor. And we had to start sampling specifically looking at the acidity of the soil. But Fraser Fir are hard, but we can grow them, Concolor Fir, which are unique because they're hypoallergenic and they have a citrusy smell to them. So you break the needle, they almost smell like an orange. We have White Pine, Scotch pine and those are sparing; those are the old guard of Christmas trees. They're a little more disease prone, a little more insect pressure. And we try not to spray for a lot of that stuff. So we've mostly just eliminated a lot of those trees because of that. And then Blue Spruce are becoming a problem with some blight and different things like that. So we have a few of those. But then Norway Spruce and Black Hills Spruce are other big varieties that we plant. And spruce trees are really beautiful, and really smell awesome in your house, but they just drop their needles a lot faster. So the whole tree is covered in needles. I always say they just have a lot more to give and they do.

 

Phil Young (10:35):Yeah. So is the preference of people that want trees, is it a specific variety they're looking for? Is that also a challenge to be like, "Hey, we're out of this specific variety." And they're like, "Well, I don't want any. I don't like what you have."

Jeff Reese (10:50):Yeah. So I'm thinking of a specific couple right now, and they come out every year and they want a White Pine. That's what they want. White Pine have really flimsy branches. They don't hold heavy ornaments. So this couple has purposely kept the ornaments that fit on a White Pine. They don't have heavy, those porcelain, they just don't have them or they put them on a different item. And so they want a White Pine. They know its limitations, they love it, and that's what they want. And we just don't always have really nice big White Pine because of various reasons.

Jeff Reese (11:22):And they say, "Well, we know one day we're going to have to pick a different kind of tree, but until that day we want a White Pine." And I said, "That's great." And then we have a handful of people that will just be like, "Well, we'll see you next year. We'll put up the fake one this year and we'll come back next year when you have more of what we like." And they're not bad about it. But some people, they like what they like and if they can't get that, then they just don't get a real tree that year, which is too bad. But I understand it. Some people get a little fired up.

Phil Young (11:56):Oh yeah, I believe that. Yeah.

Jeff Reese (11:56):I can't make a Christmas tree grow faster. I really do try very hard.

Phil Young (12:03):You're in the business of that.

Jeff Reese (12:04):Yeah. I would love to be able to make my trees grow faster. But yeah, it's always entertaining at the end of the season, not entertaining, but at the end of the season somebody comes out and they're like, "Well, I want a 10-foot tall Christmas tree." "I'm really sorry, I don't have any more of those left. I have really nice six-foot-tall Christmas trees, but I don't think that's going to work in your giant vaulted ceiling. I'm sorry. But those are the ones that go the fastest because they're the hardest to keep around."

Libby Wixtead (12:35):So having to plant 10 years ahead-

Jeff Reese (12:39):It's tough.

Libby Wixtead (12:41):... how do you plan for consumer preferences when you know what the preference is now, but how can you guys project 10 years down the road?

Jeff Reese (12:49):It's terrifying. So we planted all these trees because right now the demand is through the roof. Everybody's come out of COVID, there are a lot of younger families that have decided that they want experiences as their family. And so a Christmas tree farm is a great experience putting up, let's unbox the tree kids. It's not the same as going out to the farm. And I think a lot of people have realized that the Christmas tree is a great experience more so than just the Christmas tree. But in 10 years we could have all those trees and demand could actually be down. So then it's a balancing act. And what we're seeing on a national scale is that nobody prepared for this because 10 years ago there was an economic downturn, there was a glut of Christmas trees. So these great big farms were basically selling them for pennies on the dollar because now they got, instead of selling all their trees, well we have all these left over, I have 15, I have 20-foot trees, what am I going to do with these?

Jeff Reese (13:56):And I've paid to take care of them for all this time and now they're not worth as much as a smaller tree. So that's difficult. But right now we're seeing for sure that it is, there's more demand than there are trees just on a national scale. And that is tough because as a farm we can't grow them fast enough. So we bring in trees and basically all of our suppliers said, "Sorry, we don't have as many this year. You can't have as many."

 

Jeff Reese (14:29):I have been purposely back loading some of our own trees, so we're going to have enough this year to make it through and be prepared for next year. But you start getting three, four years out, you just really don't know what you're going to have. You can plan for it, you can think you're going to be okay, but it's faith, is all it is. It's a faith and a prayer.

Libby Wixtead (14:55):So I guess with that, what other things have you guys added to your farm to bring people out and combat maybe not having the tree amount that you have that'll just bring people out and give them that type of experience?

Jeff Reese (15:12):So yeah, we have a horse drawn wagon ride, we've had reindeer in the past. Reindeer become a bit of a problem to keep around. So we're going to actually talk to a guy who has a family farm where his kids, basically, their jobs is to manage these animals and they have all this stuff, they're great people, but he's going to bring out some baby doll sheep and a couple of goats. And they have these kunekune pigs that are furry pigs. They're absolutely adorable. But last year he brought them out and they rutted up our entire pasture area in a matter of hours.

Libby Wixtead (15:48):Oh wow.

Phil Young (15:49):Wow.

Jeff Reese (15:49):Not days, hours.

Libby Wixtead (15:51):Wow.

Jeff Reese (15:52):And he said, "Oh no, no, this should be fine." He thought we were exaggerating. So he drove by and he went, "I'm going to bring out some feed for those guys. I don't know why that's happening, but okay." But we try to have nativity style animals is important to us for the reason of why we do what we do. And I think kunekune pigs fall right into that. However, maybe not the rutting. So I think we're going to have some goats this year instead. So some baby doll sheep, some goats, we have a donkey, but it's actually currently residing at my brother's house and we don't know that we can transport her back and forth. So goats, sheep, cattle, we have a whole nativity scene on occasion.

Jeff Reese (16:39):So we try to do stuff like that. We have a scavenger hunt that my brother writes and you can wander around the whole farm. We try to do things in general because we want people to just enjoy the farm. And we want people to, even if we're not picking out trees across the creek, that you can still wander over the river and through the woods and you can still go check that out. Actually, one of our early tag events, people were going through the woods and they were picking pawpaws down in our pawpaw patch and people were holding them up like they were trophies and they were all like, "Look, I found this fruit just growing wild."

 

Jeff Reese (17:16):We're like, "That's exactly what we wanted." We wanted people to experience the farm. We have a beaver dam, which is a whole separate thing that's a problem. But we have a beaver dam, we've had otters on the farm. We just have stuff that people don't see in their day-to-day lives. And it's unique to be able to walk around in the farm. And we have topography, Northwest Ohio's very flat. We have some hills and things like that. So it makes it nice and some wildlife that you just don't see everywhere else. So that's a big thing for us is to just experience the farm in its whole.

Phil Young (17:53):One of the things, I think I saw a red, gorge slinging.

Jeff Reese (17:57):Yeah.

Phil Young (17:57):That was fantastic. And I want to know more about this.

Jeff Reese (18:01):We did that for our two tag days. And so it was free. So I think the insurance folks probably were not super enthusiastic about that, but it was just a free to do if you'd like, a fun thing for the kids to do. And we put a boat out there, so there's nothing quite sweeter than listening to a mini pumpkin just whanging against a hollow boat. If you hit the target, it was very rewarding.

Phil Young (18:30):It's the small things in life, right?

Jeff Reese (18:32):That's right. Yes, exactly right.

Phil Young (18:34):Yeah.

Jeff Reese (18:35):But we really want to make an environment where people feel like they can come and stay and enjoy the farm. Because what we find is, there's always people, they show up, they want to get their tree and they want to get out of there. And that's fine. We're a business, we need to accept that people want to do that. But really, the people that come and then you see them and then you see them again, and then you see them again and then all of a sudden they're eating a sandwich in the back of the truck with their Christmas tree loaded and they're like, "Yeah, hey guys, still here." Great. That's exactly, bring a picnic, stick around, hang out. Because ultimately, you're buying a Christmas tree, but you're really buying that experience.

Jeff Reese (19:21):You can go to Lowe's and you could probably buy a little cheaper tree. Maybe not, it depends on the tree, but it's just what we're selling is that experience and that family atmosphere. And on certain days, it gets so busy that we don't have time to talk to everybody. And that's not why we do what we do, but ultimately, we can't control the crowds. When people come, they come. So we always feel bad when we don't get to interact with all of our customers, but it's awesome when we see people that are just truly enjoying what the farm is.

Libby Wixtead (19:58):So when did you guys decide to make this more of an experience rather than come pick up your tree and leave and make it more of an agritourism destination within northwest Ohio?

Jeff Reese (20:11):I think from the very beginning, my dad actually taught ag business and he has never once run this like a business. In fact, he's fought that at every turn. So we still actually have free hot cider. If you want a cup, have a cup. We used to do peanuts, the wagon rides are free, we tie it to your car for free, we haul the tree for you, and we cut it down with bow saws. That was the other thing is, my dad didn't want, I think he was terrified of any of us running chainsaws. He always said it was the environment.

Jeff Reese (20:44):So if you have chainsaws running and all that, it's loud, it's noisy. And so a bow saw, although way more work, is very quiet. And the other thing is kids can help us do it. So that's always a really cool thing when your son gets to get down or daughter, the little girls are awesome, like, "Let's go. Let's get dirty." And crawl down underneath your Christmas tree and help cut it down. And that's something they get to remember, tell their friends at school. And we got a lot of kids that do that.

 

Jeff Reese (21:14):So from the very beginning it was really more centered on that. And so when we started, a family would show up and a Reese brother would go meet with them, greet them, walk with them the whole time, explain to them how the farm worked, cut down their tree, carry it up, shake the old needles out, wrap it up, tie it to the car, and then start the process over with the next family. We're too busy to get to do it that way now. But that was the whole impetus of what the farm was for. And it certainly makes you comfortable talking to complete strangers like they're part of your family. So that's not a bad offshoot.

Phil Young (21:56):Yeah. So when do you guys open up? When's day one?

Jeff Reese (22:00):Technically Sunday. This coming Sunday is our day one, which is crazy because it always used to be Black Friday or what we call Green Friday because we're clever like that. But so many people have wanted their Christmas trees prior to Thanksgiving. And I saw a funny meme the other day. It said that turkey tastes just as good with their Christmas tree up.

Libby Wixtead (22:24):Yep, I saw that.

Jeff Reese (22:26):Okay. I don't advise people to put their tree up prior to Thanksgiving, especially a real tree. It's a long time to keep a living thing alive that's now no longer has roots, right? It's a long time, but people do it and don't seem to have issues. I had a customer this last Sunday at our tag event, he pulled me aside and he was trying to be subtle. He said, "I just want to ask you, our tree only made it into the second week of January last year, and I didn't know if there was something I should be doing differently so that it lasted." And there was a woman standing there and she goes, "Was it a balled and burlapped tree?" He goes, "No, it was a cut tree." He goes, "I just assumed they made it to Epiphany." She goes, "If it makes it to new years, that's a good year." She goes, "If you're making it to the middle of January, you're doing something right."

Phil Young (23:16):Yeah. The question is, what did you do?

Libby Wixtead (23:18):Yes. That's right.

Phil Young (23:20):I should be asking the question to you.

Jeff Reese (23:21):Like, "Wow." What a product, right?

Phil Young (23:25):Yeah.

Jeff Reese (23:25):Inadvertently gave a rave review and he didn't even know it. He goes, "We were really happy, but it didn't quite make it to Epiphany." It sounds wonderful. So I always think it's funny how everybody is different, but yeah, you certainly aren't getting your tree this Sunday before Thanksgiving and keeping it into January. That's probably not going to be a normal cause. So a lot of people get it early and then basically Christmas, it's out of there and it should be fine. But you're bringing Mother Nature into your home. Things happen. So it's been a stressful year for trees. We had a drought and then we had a whole bunch of rain and then we had drought again. And so you just never know. Last year we had issues because there wasn't a frost. Obviously, this year that's not a problem, but the frost was so late, those trees up, that's their trigger to really lock all their needles in place and protect themselves.

Jeff Reese (24:23):And so we had some trees that were cut prior to the frost and they don't hold their needles as well when that happens. That has quite literally never been an issue before. So just the adaptation of how things go. It's always changing.

Phil Young (24:41):We talked a little bit about this already, but I'm curious, do you have a lot of people that are die-hard real tree people, and then they continue to come back and then you have people that are the newbies. Do you have a lot of newbies? Like, "I'm coming to get my tree for the very first time. I have no idea what I'm doing." Or is it more probably just the repeat customers?

Jeff Reese (25:00):I'm always shocked at how many new people come out, they're like, "Yeah, we've never been to your farm before." And every year, there's always a bunch of those. I think there's a pretty big percentage of real Christmas tree customers that also have an artificial tree. And so they get a tree when it's convenient or maybe they get a real tree every year, but some years they just don't have time to come out to Mount Cory, Ohio. So they get one at a lot somewhere.

Jeff Reese (25:29):And so mostly for us, as long as you're getting, you're having a good experience, that's important to us because especially with new customers, we really only get one opportunity to show them why we're different. And when you get really busy, we don't really have that opportunity every single time. And I think as a lot of people know, you could put signage everywhere.

 

Jeff Reese (25:53):I had a six-foot sign last year and people would walk up to it and then keep going and they're like, "Where are the trees at?" It says it on the sign that you looked at. But it's one of those things where every year it's shocking how many new customers we get, but I think that's a big part of it. It's not that they had a bad experience or it was different, but life is crazy and you just don't always have time to go do the experience. So you run to Lowe's or a lot.

 

Jeff Reese (26:27):I would much rather see people go to a lot in their community and at least still buy from somebody where they value the fact that it's a real Christmas tree. Lowe's just wants you in the store. They don't particularly care if you have a nice experience. So nothing against that, but personal preference.

Phil Young (26:45):And I don't know if you mentioned this, but how many acres do you guys cover with your trees?

Jeff Reese (26:50):We've continued to expand. I think we're getting close to 25 ish acres of Christmas trees, roughly a thousand trees per acre.

Phil Young (27:00):Okay.

Jeff Reese (27:00):So the original farm was a total of 55 acres. And so we had maybe five or eight acres of trees. And so we've expanded drastically from that. But we have a couple of pipelines that run through. We have a couple of places, we have some interesting hurdles to overcome where we can't plant trees. We have a conservation reserve ground, we have a wetland area, and we have the creek that runs through. So we have a lot of area to cover, but we don't have Christmas trees on all that. We actually tried ridges, we tilled up and we made ridges in the flood plain and it survived for eight years. And we had big, beautiful, fast-growing, awesome trees. And then in '07, the flood came through and three feet up of every single one of those eight, nine, 10-foot trees were totally covered in debris.

Jeff Reese (27:54):So we had to go through and brush off and clean off all of that in that 95-degree, a hundred percent humidity. It was just terrible. And then we lost about a thousand sellable trees. So to be honest, from '07 on, we've been still playing catch-up even all these years later because when you lose that many trees that are of sellable size, you can't just blink and recuperate. That was a big deal. So oddly enough, we're finally going to be finishing out a section of the replant from all of that each year.

Libby Wixtead (28:33):Well, lastly here, I think the last question I have for you would be, do you have any advice for anybody that is wanting to diversify their farm in a non-traditional crop? And then also, how to take that and make it an agritourism destination?

Jeff Reese (28:53):I think the biggest thing is, especially with agritourism, you can go about it two ways. You can go about it strictly from a business, and I can do it this way. I can make money, I can bring people on. Bringing people to your farm is an inconvenience, right? When people come to your property and they feel like they can just go wherever they want and do whatever they want, it can be a huge inconvenience. So you have to have that mindset. So then your question is, do you do it strictly as a business to make money or do you do it as an experience where you can make money, but then also you have that reward, so maybe it's not as efficient, but you do some things that, and I think in general, agriculture and agritourism tend to be more that way. It's not efficient, but it's better, right?

Jeff Reese (29:50):But those are the choices you have to make. Because ultimately, if you're building a rental hall, if you're building an event center, if you're doing any of those things, people are going to be on your property. And so they're going to feel like they can do whatever they want once they're there. So you either have to accept that or you have to spend a whole lot to rope off, cone off areas, however you do that. But then you lose some of the charm of what makes agritourism such a unique and cool thing.

 

Jeff Reese (30:23):So we have chosen to just allow people to do that. But because of the space in the area, it's also hard to manage because we have a ton of space for people to cover. So we have to mow it, clean it, keep it nice, it's a lot. So summer months, we're somewhat missing opportunities to bring people in because it's tough to manage because you can't let people go wander through poison ivy and briars and you have to keep that maintained. And that's a full-time job.

 

Jeff Reese (30:53):So I think in general, accepting that base of knowledge makes you sleep a lot easier at night. Once you get to that point, you're like, "Okay, people are on my farm, people are on my property. And that's okay." And then, where do we go from there?

 

Phil Young (31:12):Jeff, thank you for joining us today. I'm excited to have you. That was a fascinating topic. Learned a ton. Again, you can see Kaleidoscope Farms at Mount Cory, Ohio and they're open right now. So if you want to go check them out, definitely do it. You can buy your tree, have fun, and we will be back for another great episode very soon. Thanks for joining us guys.

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