Tradition, quality grow at family#039;s tree farm

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 17, 2004

KITTS HILL - Like Santa, they may be taken for granted the bigger part of the year, but the fruits of their labor have brought holiday cheer into the homes of Tri-State residents for nearly three decades now.

Dickess Christmas Tree Farm opened for business in 1976. Located at 2888 County Road 61 in Kitts Hill, the 120-acre spread is truly a family affair both in terms of operation and the generations of repeat buyers it attracts every year.

"Well over half our business base are return customers and we know a lot of them and I'm getting to know them," owner Keith Lee Dickess said. "Dad knows most of them by name and they know him. It's really operated on a personal basis and I like that family atmosphere."

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Keith Dickess took over the reins a couple of years ago from father Carl.

The decision to follow in his dad's footsteps was an easy one for Keith. The twinkle in his eyes spoke of the affection he has for the business.

"I just hated to see it go," Keith Dickess said. "My sister has a family and career and my brother has his own business and career. I'm the youngest, but I really love it though. I love retail and I love just being outside and I love the whole process in general."

Both his brother and sister live nearby the sprawling property, home to more than a thousand trees of the Colorado blue spruce, Scotch pine, white pine and fir varieties. While his siblings chose different life paths, Keith's enthusiasm for those trees began early.

"I've worked here for many yearsŠI started out as a water boy helping all the guys and the crews out in the summer," he said laughing.

Now he oversees the entire operation that understandably requires dedication and a lot of patience.

The tree-growing process takes about seven years for the tiny saplings to reach a mature height of seven feet, Dickess said. Each March, about 1,000 are planted and for the next seven months they require careful pruning and mowing to mold them into the ideal conical shapes.

By October, Dickess and his employees are busy pricing the matured trees for the farm's opening the day after Thanksgiving. Layaways begin the first weekend in November for people wishing to get a jumpstart to the holiday rush.

Until Christmas, the farm is open seven days a week 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers are free to choose and cut their own tree, or one of the farm's employees will do the cutting for them.

Although the market for live trees has declined about 37 percent since 1995, the National Christmas Tree Association expects this year's numbers to be higher. According to its Web site, the organization ranks Ohio 11th among national tree producers with fir varieties being the most popular.

Right now, the blue spruce constitutes about two-thirds of tree sales at the Dickess farm. For Keith, his business is all about providing the quality trees customers want.

"Putting a good product out to the public is first and foremost," Dickess said. "You've got to have a good product when you're in retail. We just want return customers."

For more information or to purchase a tree, call Dickess Christmas Tree Farm at 867-4931.