The thing I have in common with Taylor Swift…

I know what you’re thinking… the hair, right? Or is it the voice? Both very good guesses, but, mmm… no.

The very cool thing I share with country singer/songwriter/superstar Taylor Swift is… drum roll… we both grew up on a Christmas tree farm.

Taylor Swift was raised on an 11-acre Christmas tree farm in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania (near Reading). In 2008, Taylor (then age 18) appeared on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and shared this story about her experience:

“Yes! I did [grow up on a Christmas Tree farm], so this is a good season for me. I was too young to help with the hauling of the trees up the hills and putting them onto cars. So, it was my job to pull off the preying mantis pods off of the Christmas trees. The problem with that is if you leave them on there, people bring them into their house. I forgot to check one time and they hatched all over these people’s house. And there were hundreds of thousands of them. And they had little kids, and they couldn’t kill all of them because that’d be a bad Christmas.”

Here’s a photo of Taylor Swift’s family. God bless ’em, they do look like tree farmers, don’t they?

Taylor Swift family

Younger brother Austin, father Scott, mother Andrea, and Taylor Swift

Here’s a photo of my family. This was taken at Farm Fest last summer when my parents won “Farm Family of the Year” for Anoka County:

Anoka Farm Family of theYear, 2011

Kathy and Will Almendinger

My parents, Kathy and Will Almendinger

Dan Almendinger and Joy Baker

My twin brother, Dan Almendinger, and me

As I type this, I’m lying in bed staring out the window at a beautiful, peaceful scene… acres and acres of Christmas trees, lining the banks of the Rum River. Here are some photos I took last year, after the big Thanksgiving snowfall:

Isn’t it beautiful? The thing is though, I have a short window of opportunity to enjoy the scenery before throngs of people armed with orange hand saws descend on the farm in search of the perfect Christmas tree to adorn their rumpus rooms.

Oh, how I love it.

Er, at least most of it.

The thing is… Christmas tree growers have exactly three weekends per year to earn a living. The season starts on Black Friday and ends (for the most part) the week before Christmas Eve. As you might imagine, it’s very stressful. Last year, when the metro area was hit by two big snowstorms that took place on the first two weekends, it was tough… and not just for my family, but all Minnesota tree farmers.

And, really, snow isn’t even the worst thing to hit a tree farmer. Consider the time a few years ago when a careless smoker tossed his cigarette out the window and started a fire that burned down forty acres of beautiful 6′-8′ Fraser Fir (that had taken ten years to grow, feed, and shape). Or the time two Mother’s Days ago when a late frost killed all the new growth on the trees, setting back their cutting dates by a full year. Or the back-to-back droughts of the mid-2000s that killed nearly every single seedling my family planted for two or three years in a row. Rough.

With all the stress though, I still love it. I’ve never known anything different, so I guess I wouldn’t know what a normal Christmas is for most families. For me, Christmas means a brief and shining respite with family on Thanksgiving before all hell breaks loose the next day. It means getting up before the sunrise, pulling on Carharts, Sorrels, and a pair of leather choppers, and arriving at the little red pay shed early enough to start the propane heater (that my uncle Chuck welded together) before the first customer arrives. It means learning how to work a hand saw better than most men, and learning how to calculate sales tax by age eleven. It means snow down your neck, pine needles in your underwear, and my mom’s homemade soup on the stove when we finally arrive home.

Well, looks like the first customers are about to arrive. I’d better get going. Taylor Swift and I have a busy schedule today.

Merry Christmas!

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the education Joy. I sure appreciate the realities of tree farming so much more 🙂

  2. Joy, You and I share a lot in common…
    1) you sell Christmas Trees, I used to sell Christmas trees as a Service Club project every winter for years as a community fundraising venture. I also dealt with Christmas tree farmers and inspected their operations before selecting suppliers.
    2) you are a twin. My godson is a twin (but unfortumately his premature brother died at birth.) Also, my cousin had twin daughters. Lastly, I am writing a book about fifty sets of twins who fought in WWII as part of my military research interests.
    3) we both seem to like to write
    4) You have an interest in Villa Am Meer, owned by the people who my own German godfather worked for. I also worked for him for ten years before his death.) As I mentioned before, he was employed by the American owners in their facility at Norda (Essential oils, Flavours and Fragrances) in Toronto before the business was sold off. Torma Trading was their spice brokerage, food ingredients sales arm that they also had. My godfather became the owner of that company as a parting gift from the owners when Norda was sold by the parent company. My godfather was interned as a German in Canada during the 6 years of WWII because of who his father was. I am currently waiting for his files from the Government of Canada to see what they believed were his connections to Nazi Germany through his father who was the head sales guy at IG Farben, the world’s largest chemical company at the time, set up in 1925 to bring together world corporations in the industry. It was forced to work for Nazi Germany in the days when everyone was afraid of the Gestapo and SS inside Germany. His father, seeing thing headed for war again, sent him to Canada around 1928 where he settled and married. Had his father not died in 1943 he would have been tried as an industrial contributor to the war effort and might have received a jail sentence after the war. It is still all a bit hazy but the information with what you have written is coming together and I may have another book manuscript about WWII, Canada and the USA to write. What a fascinating bit of research this has been.
    Keep the intersting blog going…lovin’it!

  3. Terri Steffen |

    We have always gone to a farm and cut down our tree…..well, since the kids have been here! We absolutely love the experience! Have a blessed Holiday Baker family and to you and yours! From the Steffen family!!

  4. Such fun, Joy. It was reading my story for many years of my
    life. You forgot getting pine needles under your fingernails as you went through pockets before throwing them in the washer. While I was in it up to my eye brows, I
    wasn’t so nutz for it, and now of course, with euphoric recall I remember it all with pleasure.

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