Three families, five decades, countless traditions at Christmas tree farm

The trees, hot chocolate and candy canes are ready for the season at Sprouffske Trees near Rainier.

The family farm, which has been around for nearly 50 years, opened Friday to sell its Grand, Douglas and Noble fir trees in preparation for Christmas.

Three units of the extended Sprouffske family own the farm now, including Jonathan and Shelley Sprouffske and their three children, who spoke with The News Tribune about the business.

Question: Can you explain the history of the farm?

A: Shelley Sprouffske: It started back with Jonathan’s grandfather, Grandpa Fred, as everybody called him, who had crazy blue eyes. A really great guy. And he had four kids. I think we are at Year 48 this year.

Q: What is everyone’s role?

A: Shelley Sprouffske: Uncle Jerry, he pretty much runs the farm itself. He makes sure the trees get planted, that they’re sheared on time. We contract out the shearing. A 10-foot Douglas, they shear with machetes. They can do probably 5,000 trees in two days.

It’s making sure things continue to grow. We have to predict what buying patterns will be in seven to 10 years, and plant based on that. The Nobles are most in demand right now.

Jonathan Sprouffske: We used to do a lot more wholesale, where we’d ship trees to buyers that have stands. We do a lot more U-cut now than we used to. It’s just a change in the economy, with gas prices and shipping costs and everything else.

Q: Is this a full-time job? Does anyone work outside of the farm?

A: Jonathan Sprouffske: We all do something different on the side. I’m an attorney the rest of the time, and Shelley has a photography business.

Q: Do people ask for help finding a particular tree they have in mind?

A: Shelley Sprouffske: Sometimes they describe: “I’m looking for the kind of tree that has lots of space between the branches, or is bushy, or I have dogs and want a tree they can’t get to.” We’ve got a map mounted on the wall when they walk in so we can point to exactly where they need to go.

And we have saws that they can borrow. Sometimes people don’t realize you need a saw to cut down the tree. It’s really cute, I love it.

We have a lot of military families that have never gone out into a field and got a tree before. That’s been fun, to see families making traditions. And we have families that have been coming for more than 30 years. The thing we love, we always say, “Christmas begins at our farm.”

There’s a group of families that come out with three or four Suburbans. They set up a whole tailgate with barbecue and everything. You see them roll in, and that’s their tradition.

Q: Do you get your tree from the farm?

A: Jonathan Sprouffske: Always.

Shelley Sprouffske: The first year we got married, of course, I had to look at every single tree. Of course, we ended up getting one about 100 yards from our house.

Jonathan Sprouffske: Now she ties a big ribbon to the top, and I go search for it.

Q: Do the kids help at the farm?

A: Shelley Sprouffske: The 5-year-old and the 3-year-old can tell their trees apart. Which one’s a Grand, which one’s a Douglas fir. I love that. Their job is to say hi to people and thank them.

They would just go all day long if we let them. It’s pretty much ingrained when you’re part of the family. You start being part of the farm. Five generations of Sprouffskes have been able to enjoy the farm and be part of it.

John Sprouffske: The kids just get so excited. We’re at the end of a dead-end road. They get so excited that there’s all these people and all these cars.

Shelley Sprouffske: They always go through withdrawal in January. They don’t quite understand supply and demand, that nobody wants a tree in January.

Q: Do they get upset when it’s time to take down the Christmas tree?

A: Shelley Sprouffske: We usually have to do it after they’re asleep, so they don’t know. It’s usually up until mid-January.

Q: How far do people drive to come to the farm?

A: Jonathan Sprouffske: We get a lot of Pierce County, a lot of King. They come down for the experience. I’ve never known this area not to have a tree farm.

For me, the exciting part is I grew up helping do the little things — handing out candy canes, carrying firewood. Now our kids are able to do that. We get to be part of different families’ traditions. You see the same families grow up, You see the new arrivals.

They live up in Seattle, but they still want to come down, because they came here as a child.