One day, years ago, Steve Ude and a friend looked out over Ude’s property on the Key Peninsula and had an idea.
“You know, we ought to plant Christmas trees out there,” Ude recalled his friend saying.
Ude’s been selling trees for 20 years now at Ude’s U-Cut Trees. On the land, tree hunters grab a saw and go out into Ude’s three acres.
He started planting what he calls his children’s college fund about 1987. He’s been on the land for close to 35 years. Those who chop down a 7-foot Noble Fir will take home a tree Ude planted a decade ago.
It takes time for Ude’s trees to become traditional Christmas trees. The Douglas Firs grow the fastest.
Several other tree stands spring up annually around the Key Peninsula highway. The new kid on the block is the Food Backpacks 4 Kids stand. All the profits from trees sold go into the program, which provides students with a backpack full of food to take home for the weekend when school lunch isn’t available. Donations items suggested include snack packs, noodle cups and other non-perishables.
So far, business has been a little slow for the new stand, said Ray Montero of the Backpacks 4 Kids board.
“We could use some more people coming by,” he said.
Their stand, at 118th Avenue on the Key Peninsula Highway, is across the parking lot from the program’s new office. The lot has classic Christmas music playing with lights and Santas scattered around. The lot will be open from noon to 7 p.m. every day until about Dec. 21. Trees cost between $34 and $80, with special orders a little more expensive.
Cinde Gardner, of Cinde’s Best Trees, isn’t new to the game. Her stands are a staple in the area.
Last Thursday, Gardner helped June Voss of Purdy buy fresh holiday decorations. Gardner sells decorated baskets, wreaths and trees.
Snowflake, 6, a Siberian Husky Silvertip, is an attraction at the lot. She knows how to open candy canes, pulling them out of the wrapper with her teeth. Tethered up behind the RV on the lot, she’s popular with regulars thanks to her calm demeanor and fluffy winter coat.
Gardner’s selection, at 94th Avenue on the Key Peninsula Highway, includes the ever-popular Nobles and Grand Firs, as well as the Norway Spruce, White Pine and Douglas Fir. There’s nothing on her lot more than $100, she said.
Trees cost a flat rate at Ude’s U-Cut. He decided long ago not to charge by height, but by tree. That way, families get the size they want without breaking the bank or overpaying. Trees range from $30 to $45, he said.
For her Christmas decorating, Gardner plans to go with either a White Pine or a Norway Spruce. The White Pine has lighter limbs, which allow strung lights to “dance,” she said. The Norway Spruce is a bit more prickly and prevents pets from climbing on it.
“It’s totally different (from other trees),” she said.
Gardner wants to “pay it forward throughout the year” with her business. Cinde’s Best Trees gives to a chosen charity, or several charities, each year after the season wraps up. Gardner hasn’t chosen a charity yet, but she plans to update her customers in her email newsletter. She’ll also tell them about her new venture with skin care product Nerium AD.
Gardner doesn’t usually venture into business, but she said she has a good feeling. She might retire from the tree lot in a year or two and pass the business on, she said.
The Backpacks 4 Kids program is grateful for volunteers like Montero. He said the most rewarding part of the job is “when you get parents and kids telling us how grateful they are for the food that comes home.”
The money from the trees will keep that food in backpacks.
“They’re buying something (trees) they need and, in addition, the money goes to a worthy cause,” Montero said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Tree stands are essential for the holidays, and Gardner enjoys her annual job.
“This is once a year, so I don’t get bored of it,” she said.
The weather changes and lack of rain have been tough for Ude’s farm. But despite 70 to 80 percent of his seedlings dying this year, Ude keeps plugging along because he likes to see families come out and cut down their tree. Already this year, Ude estimates 100 trees have been knocked down.
There’s hot chocolate and a bonfire on site, and Ude is on hand to help amateur lumberjacks, who are all filled with cheer.
“You find very few people come here grumpy,” he said.