John Nedza planted his first Christmas tree seedlings 35 years ago. They have been growing pretty well for him since then. With the holiday season over, it’s time for him to get back to tending the trees at Windrush Christmas Tree Farm on Jouett School Road.
For as long as Nedza can remember, he’s always loved growing things. He graduated from the State University of New York with a degree in forest engineering, but he couldn’t find a decent paying job and returned to school to become a civil engineer. It wasn’t until a co-worker gave him the idea to grow Christmas trees that he decided to turn his hobby into a business. It became his passion.
“I just love it,” he said. “I like being outside, planting the trees. I like the hard work.”
For Nedza, it’s about much more than growing trees. It’s about seeing children’s faces light up as they select their family’s annual Christmas tree.
“We meet a lot of really nice families,” he said. “It’s like giving someone a living Christmas card. The trees probably aren’t quite as important as the experience I can offer people.”
When Nedza’s own kids were small, planting trees helped teach them the value of hard work and dedication.
“They would get up on a cold February morning, have a big breakfast, then we’d go out and plant trees,” he said. “In the summer, they were all assigned a few fields of trees and we had three riding lawn mowers and they each had one and they mowed their fields.”
He believes all the hard work on the farm shaped their careers and helped them be successful.
As for Nedza, he plans to keep planting trees as long as he can.
“There was a time, years ago, that I said, ‘I’m getting too old for this. I don’t have young kids anymore. I’m going to quit doing this. And I won’t have to be here for all these weekends in December, you know. I can be like other people going to the mall, going to the movies or going out to dinner.’
At one time, he only planted about 50 trees, and when they were sold he shut down for the season. That led to protests from longtime customers who came too late to buy one.
“Oh my gosh, the people came over saying, ‘But our parents brought us here! You know, we want to bring our kids here and what are we going to do?’” he said.
“It broke my heart! All right, I’m going to keep planting and keep going!”
While things weren’t quite as busy this Christmas season as they were in previous years, business is still booming. This year, Nedza sold nearly 200 trees—double what he expected to. His varieties include white and Scotch pine, Leyland cypress, and Norway spruce.
Nedza also sells handcrafted wreaths in his shop at the farm. His wreaths are made using a foot-powered wreath machine that uses metal clamps to secure the greenery and other decorations. Customers can make their own wreath or buy one of his already-made creations.
This is Nedza’s hobby—he still has a full-time job. The work of planting trees is hard, but it’s the holiday rush he looks forward to every year.