Maybe, I half-jokingly told my girls on the long drive home, it’s time for a fake Christmas tree.

Their cries in unison, however, confirmed they didn’t mind the arctic wind that seemed to get colder during the lengthy selection process. Nor did they mind the drive from our house to the rural tree farm near Goessel.

“Nooo!” my 7-year-old daughters, Brett and Kaci, cried.

Little Brett added she couldn’t imagine how sad it would be to not make the venture. Besides, she said, she heard from a classmate in school that a fake tree lasts just five years. She couldn’t fathom where we would put it for 11 months of the year.

Yes, we are part of the “real tree” group. Despite the cold and the needles that seem to drop daily when you have children, I wouldn’t change it. It’s just not Christmas at our house without the scent of a real tree.

Sure, I’m partial about our longstanding tradition. My own parents took me every year to Bel Tree Farm near Salina to select the perfect pine, which was followed by cider and treats in the tree farm’s barn, along with an evening of decorating it.

Many folks have similar Christmas tree memories. In fact, I believe it is what keeps many Kansas tree farms in business.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the real-tree business generated $1.16 billion last year. About 33 million real trees were purchased, compared to about 15 million fake trees.

Today, there are 34 Christmas tree farms across Kansas, with most located in the eastern half of the state. Tony Delp’s tree farm sits the farthest west and remains one of the oldest establishments. They proclaim it to have been the first of its kind in Kansas when his father, Cecil, first started it in 1959 near St. John.

Back then, Christmas tree farms were an oddity. Throughout its first few years, Delp Christmas Tree Farm served as a 4-H project for Tony and his brother, Phil.

Tony Delp still operates the farm, where he sees repeat customers year after year, folks searching for the perfect tree amid his 20-acre grove.

“Tradition, that is the biggest thing,” he said. “Families come with their kids or have done it themselves as youngsters. It is a family outing. They make it a fun thing. It is not just about the tree; it’s about the time they can spend together.”

For instance, said Tony Delp, a carload of women come up every year from Amarillo, Texas, for a tree, largely because the Delps grow unique breeds compared to other Christmas tree farms. Those breeds include the concolor and Douglas fir.{p dir=”ltr”}The Delps also make greenery that they sell, and offer customers cider and peanuts. It has already been busy, with Thanksgiving weekend and the first weekend of December being the season’s biggest weekends for the farm.{p dir=”ltr”}Meanwhile, at Goessel, Ardie Goering tells me it is her own family tradition that keeps her from quitting the tree business.{p dir=”ltr”}The second-generation tree grower’s love of the family farm has kept her traveling back and forth from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where her husband, Wynn, has a full-time job. Her parents, Lloyd and Marlene Schroeder, started Pine Creek Farm in the 1970s for supplemental income on their conventional farm.{p dir=”ltr”}Goering and her husband took over the tree farm seven years ago, despite the crazy schedule. She comes back in the spring to plant trees and care for the land, followed by regular visits to water and mow.

“The selling of trees is a fun thing to do that gets in your blood,” she said. “Christmas is very much about tradition, and, for me, it is a family tradition to sell trees.”

This year already has been busy, she said, adding that she has third-generation customers traipsing through the farm these days.

At Pine Creek, her employees hand you a saw when you drive in. Then you can meander through the farmstead, which has several tree groves spread across it.

“It’s the experience to come out, cut your own tree,” Goering said. “Coming out to the country is a unique experience because fewer people live on farms all the time.”

But, she admitted, there aren’t as many tree farms in south-central Kansas as there once were. It’s a lot of work for a side business.

“But it does mean a lot to me,” she said. “It is very important. It is a good business and a good tradition. That doesn’t fall into place easily. Someone has to work to preserve them, and we think it is worth doing.”

I’m glad they keep the tradition alive, which helps keep alive my own. On a cold, blustery day we ventured to the Goessel farm and meandered through the trees until we found the perfect one. We ventured home with a tree in the bed of the pickup.

And on a cold winter evening, we hung the lights and pulled out the years of tacky homemade ornaments the girls have made. They excitedly hung everything as high as they could reach.

Is it Christmas tomorrow? my 3-year-old Jordie asked with excitement.

Soon, I told her. Soon.

Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel’s agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at abickel@hutchnews.com or by calling (800) 766-3311, ext. 320.

IF YOU GO

Delp Christmas Tree Farm

Address: 2 NE 30th St., St. John

Hours: Monday through Friday – 1 to 6 p.m.; Saturday – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday – 1 to 6 p.m.

Contact: delptreefarm.com; (620) 549-3273.

Pine Creek Farm

Address: 994 N. Meridian Road. Directions: 1 mile west and 2 miles south of Goessel or 8 miles north, 2 miles west and one mile north of Newton.

Hours: Sunday and Tuesday through Friday – noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Contact: (620) 367-2606 or {a href=”http://www.pinecreektreefarm.com.” target=”_blank”}www.pinecreektreefarm.com.{/a}

Prairie Pines

Address: 4055 N. Tyler Rd., Maize.

Hours: Friday 2 to 5 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Contact: (316) 722-1145 or {a href=”http://prairiepines.com” target=”_blank”}prairiepines.com{/a}

Pine Lake Farm

Address: 6802 S. Oliver St., Derby

Hours: Monday through Friday – 2 to 6 p.m.; Saturday – 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday – noon to 6 p.m.

Contact: {a href=”http://www.pinelakechristmastrees.com” target=”_blank”}www.pinelakechristmastrees.com{/a}, (316) 258-0088.

4C’s Christmas Tree Farm

Address: 11229 Creed, Wichita

Hours: Monday through Friday – 2 p.m. to dark; Saturday – 9 a.m. to dark; Sunday – noon to dark

Contact: (316) 684-0464.

Windy Knoll Farm

Address: 15630 E. 47th St. South, Derby

Hours: Monday through Friday – 2 to 5 p.m.; Saturday – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday – noon to 5 p.m.

Contact: (316) 733-0918; {a href=”http://www.windyknolltrees.com.” target=”_blank”}www.windyknolltrees.com.{/a}

Bel Tree Farm

Address: 401 S. Holmes Rd., Salina

Hours: Monday through Friday – 3 to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday – 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday – noon to 5:30 p.m.

Contact: (785) 452-9922, (785) 823-3334