From Shelbyville to Frankfort in eight years

Christmas tree farm's products adorn homes throughout the Bluegrass - including the Governor's Mansion

By Christ Aldridge, Kentucky Agricultural News

It’s taken eight years, but the hard work has finally paid off at Shelby Christmas Tree Farm & Nursery.

Shelby County Christmas Tree Farm & Nursery partners Vivek Sarin, second from left, and Ron Stella, second from right, are joined by Sarin's sons Braden, left, and Cameron, who work at the 4-acre Shelbyville farm.

Shelby County Christmas Tree Farm & Nursery partners Vivek Sarin, second from left, and Ron Stella, second from right, are joined by Sarin's sons Braden, left, and Cameron, who work at the 4-acre Shelbyville farm.

In 2008, Vivek Sarin and Ron Stella formed a partnership. Sarin owned a 4-acre field in Shelbyville but had no agricultural experience. Stella had farming experience but no land to put it to use. 

A classified advertisement in the Shelbyville newspaper, the Sentinel-News, brought the two strangers together.

“For years, we’ve cut our own Christmas trees,” Sarin said. “Driving home one year with one on the roof of our car, I told my wife how fun it would be to cut our own trees on our own land. 

“I put an ad in the local paper and never mentioned Christmas trees. The second phone call I got was from Ron Stella.”

Stella, a former Christmas tree farmer in his hometown of Marceline, Missouri, recalled that the ad mentioned “land available for possible nursery use.” 

“One thing I know 100 percent how to do is grow Christmas trees,” Stella said.

Stella told Sarin: “I’ve got a wild-hair idea – would you be interested in farming Christmas trees?”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Sarin replied. “Let’s meet.”

The biggest struggle in the early years was keeping rabbits from killing the tender seedlings by chewing them down to a nub.

“They’re planted as 2-year-old seedlings, which are about 12 inches tall,” Stella said. “You get a foot a year [of growth] out of them usually, with the exception of the first year.”

Fast forward eight years, and the Christmas tree farm opened this fall with 700 trees over 6 feet tall in five popular species: Douglas Fir; Austrian, Scotch, and White Pine; and Norway Spruce.

“Ron is a great partner,” Sarin said. “All the credit goes to him. He’s just done so much. Now his hard work is paying off.”

Through Dec. 4, Stella estimated the farm had sold about 200 trees.

“We won’t know our count officially until the season’s over,” Sarin said. “We’ll go through and count all the stumps, as we did last year, and we’ll buy replacement trees and plant them in those spots.”

Customers who prefer live Christmas trees may have to wait a few years before ball and burlap trees will be for sale.

“Hopefully, our continued success will allow us to purchase equipment to dig up and sell live trees,” Sarin said. “That’s a little hard right now for a small operation like ours because we have to dig them up manually.”

Next year, Sarin plans to advertise his Kentucky Proud certification.

“I look forward to replacing our banner with better signs to display Kentucky Proud more predominately than we do right now,” he said. “We really only started selling trees this year.

“Last year, we were open, but it was just a trial run. This year, we ran a Kentucky Proud ad in the Sentinel-News and advertised on Facebook. We’re becoming more known.”

Sarin said one customer who cut a Christmas tree told him that it was a replacement for one from a big box store that was not healthy and infested with insects. 

“He told me, ‘I’m done purchasing trees that I don’t know where they come from,’” Sarin said. “That customer exemplified what Kentucky Proud is all about, because a lot of those trees in the box stores are imported from out of state.”

The farm is open weekends from 10 a.m. to dusk on Saturdays and 1 p.m. to dusk on Sundays. Hand saws are available for you to cut your own tree, or you can opt for Stella to do the cutting with his chainsaw. The rows of evergreens also make a nice setting for family Christmas photos.

Stella makes and sells wreaths. Local honey is also for sale.

The farm’s most famous customer so far was Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who bought the farm’s tallest tree, a 10-footer.

“We are proudly decorating the Governor’s Mansion this year with Christmas trees from right here in Kentucky!” Gov. Bevin posted on his Facebook page.

“Seven years ago, we never thought we’d have a tree in the governor’s mansion, but we did,” Sarin said.

Sarin hinted that his goal is to place a Kentucky Proud Christmas tree in the White House. That honor goes to the winner of the National Christmas Tree Association contest, which has presented the official tree to the White House for 50 years. This year’s tree was a 19-foot Balsam-Veitch fir from Whispering Pines Tree Farm in Oconto, Wisconsin.

“Kentucky has never had a tree in the White House,” he said. “Just sayin’.”