BY ALYSSON AREDAS
Living in 209
For some locals, it’s not enough to pick a Christmas tree from the lot or purchase an artificial tree from the store. To them, it isn’t quite Christmas until they get the opportunity to find the perfect tree and cut it down themselves — an opportunity that has been provided for nearly half a century at Hilmar Forest.
“We just like to make it a family experience. We like people to just come out and enjoy themselves,” said Janet Minturn, who operates Hilmar Forest along with her husband Sam Minturn. “We are very unique in the hot valley that we are able to grow some Christmas trees. We are a very small family-oriented farm.”
The husband-and-wife duo began planting trees in 1970 after they moved to Hilmar from Pismo Beach, where Minturn said they frequented the local choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm.
“When we were first married, that’s where we got our trees, so we had the idea to try it here,” said Minturn. “We’ve been selling for about 45 years now.”
At Hilmar Forest, locals can choose and cut from a variety of Incense Cedar and Monterey Cypress trees that they can cut down themselves. For visitors who are unable to find the perfect tree, the Christmas tree farm also offers a selection of fresh, pre-cut Noble Firs, Nordman Firs and Silvertips. Trees up to ten feet are available and range between $25 to $45 depending on size.
“They hold up very well. They do not dry out quickly, but you do need to keep them in water,” said Minturn of Hilmar Forest’s choose-and-cut options. “They also are a little different than people are used to — they are lacy, more open.
“Some people really like them, some people just aren’t used to them. That’s why we bring in the fir trees,” continued Minturn.
Minturn said that to prepare Hilmar Forest for the holiday season each year, she and her husband plant seedlings in February and maintain the trees with periodic pruning, spraying for weeds and drip irrigation once a week. When it comes to finding the perfect tree, Minturn offered some advice.
“Make sure they look healthy and remember that they look a lot smaller in the field than when you put them in their house,” said Minturn. “We’ve had so many people tell us, ‘we had no idea it was going to be so big!’”
Hilmar Forest is open from 9 a.m.to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm is located at 8608 Washington Road in Hilmar. For more information, call 634-7182.