STRINGTOWN, Pa. — For 30 years, the Ulm family at Pleasant Valley Tree Farm has helped area residents carry on family holiday traditions, providing fresh-cut trees, wreathes and greenery. But citing several factors, owner Larry Ulm said 2017 will be the final season for Pleasant Valley.
“This has not been a sudden decision, this is something we have been planning for several years," Ulm said. "We have been working toward a plan to transform the farm into a seed orchard for Canaan fir (trees).”
Ulm said his family was compelled to take action to preserve the Canaan fir for future generations. He said fungus, insects and weather have taken a toll on the species and he wants to be part of a solution to ensure a future for the tree.
He said the business has been a family operation from the very start, recalling that his newborn son, Eddie, accompanied Ulm and his wife, Marlee, as they planted their first Christmas trees. The Ulms had visited a tree farm in Garrett County and found themselves inspired by what they saw there and had confidence they could create something of their own on their newly purchased property along Wills Creek.
“It was first a home for our family and we had a youthful drive to do something with it," Ulm said. "Marlee had grown up vacationing in the area along Wills Creek. We bought our first tree at that farm and we later planted it on our own farm, and it still stands in our lot.”
As their family grew, so did their relationships with their employees, many of whom have worked at the farm since the beginning.
Floyd Shoemaker has been with the Ulms for more than 25 years, assisting first when Ulm sold trees at a lot in LaVale and then on the farm, where he continues to be Ulm’s “cornerstone.” Shoemaker’s wife Cathy, as well as their children and other members of their extended family, have all worked at Pleasant Valley.
For Floyd Shoemaker, his time at Pleasant Valley and with the Ulms has been a true labor of love.
“I enjoy seeing the smiling faces on the people who come here," he said. "I work in construction, but I don’t think I have ever missed a season here. The people are why I kept coming back, and Larry, we go way back.”
“Shoemaker and his wife, kids and other family members have made this farm what it is. They have been a real key to the operation,” Ulm said. “They have always been there when I need them. They have given up their own time at Christmas to help others have a wonderful Christmas.”
Cathy Shoemaker said knowing this is the final season is "bittersweet," but she treasures the friendships that have flourished at Pleasant Valley farm.
“We have watched the children of our customers grow up," Cathy Shoemaker said. "We have a wall of photos from families and we treasure each one of them."
Patty Hutzell has been making wreaths for Pleasant Valley Tree Farm for more than 18 years. Calling her a “true artist," Ulm said Hutzell has always made "truly beautiful creations." Her husband also plays a role at the farm, but one that cannot be revealed. Suffice to know that he “knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake.”
To mark its final year, the farm is offering reduced prices on trees. In addition to trees, fresh wreaths and greenery are for sale.
Santa is scheduled to return to the farm for his final visits during the weekend of Dec. 9 and 10. The “Kubby” train will operate, weather permitting, and the Christmas shop will offer new crafts and ornaments. A snack bar will be open through Dec. 10.
Customers are asked to consider donating to the final Pleasant Valley Tree Farm Food Drive. All collected items will be distributed to the Hyndman Food Pantry and the Western Maryland Food Bank.
Pleasant Valley Tree Farm is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23.
During a recent weekend, Ulm was visibly moved by the kind words and good wishes shared by his customers as he walked through the retail area.
“I am going to miss the role we played as the source of many Christmas traditions and those special family connections,” he said. “It’s been a great adventure and I am proud to be able to say we have left this land in better condition than it was when we started and we have helped make people happy. It’s been good.”