Hillside Christmas Tree Farm Offers a Nostalgic Holiday Experience
In the undulating landscape of the Irish Hills, Richard Stefani leans back on his seat, a glint of nostalgia in his eyes as he recounts a tale not of Dickensian hardship but of familial unity rooted in the soil of the 83 acres that hold the legacy of the Hillside Christmas Tree Farm.
"My dad and uncle saw the winters of their fencing business as a fallow period, which led them to the yuletide venture of selling Christmas trees," he begins, setting the scene of a family tradition that began in the mid-1950s.
The Stefani family narrative, told through the interwoven perspectives of Richard and his son Tony, unfolds like the branches of the very trees they cultivate—a story of growth, resilience, and the recurring blooms of generational kinship. "It was a popular get-rich scheme of the 50s," Richard chuckles, "Buy seedlings for nickels and dimes, harvest them years later for a handsome profit."
Richard’s father and uncle joined in on the idea, buying 160 acres of land near Lake City for $25 an acre. The duo planted seedlings. Ten years later, the trees were ready to sell. Richard remembers working on the tree farm during the summer with his cousins. “But when my cousins and I went to college, my father and uncle lost all their free labor,” laughs Richard. “They sold the farm.”
But in 1983, Richard purchased land in scenic Irish Hills and talked his father and uncle into once again going into the Christmas tree business. They did. Another ten years and their first crop was ready, and they were selling trees, but this time with a different slant – people could come and choose their own tree to cut. Hillside did well. Richard bought out his partners. Years later, his son Tony is now taking over.
Inheriting the land and legacy, Tony speaks of the farm with the same reverence, acknowledging the years when the duties felt more like burdens. "You grow up, and your perspective shifts," Tony muses. "As a father now, I see this as a neat family legacy, something profound and worthy of nurturing."
Indeed, the Stefani farm, a vibrant green sea surrounded by the colorful hardwoods of autumn, is home to about 15,000 Christmas trees of varying types and ages, with nearly 900 ready to find their places in the warm glow of family living rooms this season. The numbers are not just a count of trees but markers of memories in the making. "Last year, we planted 2,800 trees," Tony notes.
The Stefani’s have made the farm more than just a business. They have made it a community hub where memories are shaped and traditions are burnished. Outdoor structures wait patiently for this season’s children to return. The barn has a decorated Christmas stage with its characters ready to perform. The kitchen and menu are set. The potbelly stove and stack of wood are waiting to warm visitors cuddling their cups of hot chocolate.
As Richard reflects on the four decades since the land's purchase, he notes a beautiful continuity. “The parents who brought their kids in the 90s are now grandparents,” he says. “Their kids are now parents. We see families return, generation after generation. You recognize them. You schmooze with them. It’s nice."
The Stefani's invite others to partake in this continuum of growth and joy. "We're offering more than a tree but a memory," Tony states, encapsulating the farm's ethos. "We have a lot of nice weather for people to cut their trees. But surprisingly, the harsh days, snow, and mud are the memories that stick. That one year, cutting down the tree, freezing your fingertips, and warming up in the barn is the memory we hear people talking about."
In the Stefani's story, each tree does indeed have a tale. Each visit is a chapter in a family's history. Richard's parting words resonate with the wisdom of a man who understands the true worth of his life's work: "Every tree has a story... you're always going to remember when you got that tree."
The Stefani's narrative is a reminder of the threads that bind us—the shared labors, the common joys, and the traditions that stand resilient against the frost of time. Hillside Christmas Tree Farm is not just a plot of land. It's a legacy of growth, a tradition that nurtures the seeds of family unity and the enduring spirit of Christmas.
Hillside’s season begins Nov. 18 and is open weekends 10-5. Cash and checks only. They are located at 14745 Sharon Hollow Rd, Manchester, 48158
For more information, check their website at https://www.hillsidechristmastreefarm.com