Photo by Corin Cesaric

Starr Pines Christmas Tree Farm has been supplying Christmas trees to mid-Missouri since the 1990s, but don’t think that means it’s outdated. Owners Wayne and Ann Harmon are working toward making it a completely chemical-free farm, so you can bring home a tree without the herbicides. The two-hundred-acre Christmas tree plantation is a choose-and-cut farm in Boonville that grows fir and pine trees. There is also a pollinator habitat, two wise donkeys, a Christmas shop, experimental areas for growing new trees, and the ability to make countless holiday memories during this unique experience. Wayne tells us more about the farm here:

When did the business start?

I tried originally in ’82, but in ’86 my wife and I started putting energy in it the year we got married. That’s actually the beginning of the farm because without her energy, it wasn’t working until then. [We] sold our first tree in 1990. I think we sold maybe 70 trees. So that was our beginning. Right now we’re selling between 1,000 and 2,000 [a year]. It varies because our business is dependent on the weather.

When does Starr Pines open?

We open up on Thanksgiving at 9 am and we’re open every day until Christmas.

What made you want to go into the Christmas tree farming business?

I’ve always liked growing trees. I have a degree in horticulture from the University of Missouri and my second degree is in forest, fisheries, and wildlife. With the forestry and agriculture background, this is what I wanted to do. Grow trees.

You’re trying to get rid of chemicals entirely?

Yes, that’s correct. The more we can produce of the firs [that don’t require chemicals] and go away from pines or use ones that use less chemicals, we’ll eliminate the use of chemicals completely. We’re real close to doing that. We use a little bit on our pines just to get them established. We’re experimenting with different pines, so we won’t even have to do that [in the future].

What is the most challenging part of Christmas tree farming?

Right now for us the challenge is the problem each individual species of tree has with the insects and some fungal problems. The challenge is to control these problems and be able to grow a quality tree. For us with the firs, it’s not spraying them. That means we have to control things like bagworms by hand. Rather than spray, we hand pick off all of them. When you have an insect that wants to damage your tree and you’re not going to spray it, well guess what? You have to use your hands to deal with it.

On my way in, I saw you have a pollinator area.

We’re matching the environment on our farm and making it encompass a total whole environment, so rather than killing off insects, we’re trying to promote them because we’ve found that a lot of our problems that we used to spray for, if we have the right natural insects, they eat the bad bugs. The pollinator area is right next to this year’s planting. This is what we’re doing to try and be organic.

What’s the most rewarding part?

Christmastime. When the kids are out here in the field running around, you can hear them happy and laughing, and they’re trying to figure out which tree they are going to cut down with mom and dad and having such a good time. Everyone is happy. Everyone’s got smiles on their faces. You can’t buy that. That’s something that is rewarding in its own right.

Starr Pines, 21298 Pleasant Hill Road, Boonville, MO 65233