Christmas Tree to Learning Opportunity
The holidays are filled with tradition for many families. Meet Tom Dull, a central Indiana farmer who, with his family, has made his own tradition of connecting families and farming during the season.
After college, Dull always planned to return to the farm where his family grew corn and soybeans, and raised hogs and cattle. But the 1980s farm economy thwarted his original ideas of expansion.
“My wife, Kerry, and I looked at what else we might be able to do and settled on the possibility of growing Christmas trees,” he recalls.
In 1985, he and Kerry planted their first 200 trees. After eight summers of shaping and caring for the Scotch pines, the trees were ready to be sold. The couple aimed to sell 100 trees the first year. To their surprise, they surpassed the goal by 100 trees. Sales doubled the next year, and the next.
Twenty-five years later, the farm is still selling more trees each year. In 2017, the Dulls sold 5,700 Christmas trees one by one to Indiana families living out traditions and looking for a holiday experience.
Through the seasons the family learned to connect with customers who may only visit a farm to harvest a Christmas tree. It’s a must in the agritourism business, says Dull. “If you don’t like people, don’t consider it. You’ve got to have a knack for handling people.”
This means thinking like a customer.
“What else do people need?” Dull asks himself. Over the years, the family has added tree stands, wreaths, and food for sale.
A designated children’s area also improves the experience for young visitors. “I always wanted to make the barn available for kids to go up in the haymow and play because too many kids can’t go to Grandpa’s farm and play because Grandpa doesn’t even have a farm anymore,” Dull says.
Since the beginning, keeping customers safe has been a top priority for the family. “You have to look at your facilities with a different mind-set. People who are wandering around know nothing about the farm. They don’t understand what could be dangerous to them,” explains Dull.
In addition to their farming traditions, the Dull family has a rich history of being educators. That legacy of teaching motivated the family to offer school tours.
The field trips are designed to meet specific education standards the teachers are required to reach. Adapting the lessons taught on the farm to fit curriculum requirements has helped the Dulls make tours attractive to local schools.
As students take a wagon ride through the tree field, Dull makes stops to teach age-appropriate lessons in wildlife management, summer tree maintenance, and disease monitoring. Throughout the visit, children have hands-on opportunities to learn about life cycles and how trees provide clean oxygen to breathe.
With students come chaperones. Chaperones may not have intentions of learning, but many walk away with a lesson or two of their own. Clever signs point out facts about crops grown on the farm. Dull says he’s not afraid to jump into conversations with the adults to set the record straight when it comes to practices on his farm.
“Sharing our story is an important thing for us to do, even though, for many of us, it’s an uncomfortable thing to do,” Dull encourages fellow farmers.
The farm maintains a detailed website and engages with customers via social media.
Tom and Kerry Dull