Jim Strautman’s green thumb has grown since he was farm boy in Missouri.This month marks the Carroll man’s 50th and final year growing Christmas trees.
Jim Strautman’s green thumb has grown since he was farm boy in Missouri.
This month marks the Carroll man’s 50th and final year growing Christmas trees.
GLIDDEN — Jim Strautman walked the rows of Fraser firs on his Christmas tree farm on a recent day and wondered what would become of his life’s work.
The 85-year-old Carroll man fanned his fingers to feel those elegant, rounded branches with needles outstretched like he’s done so many times.
Strautman is a retired teacher and school counselor who has moonlighted for the past 50 years as a Christmas tree farmer.
Until recently, he’s driven out to the farm most days for a few hours at a time. He plants and waters and prunes the trees to get that perfect Christmas-tree shape.
The best trees, he said, are Frasers that are thick with needles, leave room for decorations and are not too big or small for their destination — whether it’s a typical Carroll home or a church sanctuary.
But ask him to pick one of his trees for you, and he’ll decline. He learned this lesson a long time ago:
“The beauty of a Christmas tree is in the eye of the beholder,” he laughed.
But now it’s time to voice his opinion about those thousands of trees he’s grown on that 5-acre plot south of Glidden, where he can stand and gaze for miles in each direction.
It’s time to sell the farm. And it’s time to be picky.
Strautman is a soft-spoken, thoughtful, Earth-minded man who hopes his special spot in Carroll County won’t be homogenized. He doesn’t want the surrounding farmland to swallow it.
He hopes the land can continue as a tree farm — or that someone sees its beauty and makes it their home.
Strautman was raised on a farm, with woods and two streams and cows and grapes he could eat from the vine. He wants more people to have that experience.
“It was the best upbringing a person could have,” he said.
Strautman was born in 1927 and raised on a 140-acre farm near New Cambria, Mo., about 50 miles south of the state’s border with Iowa.
He fished the streams with makeshift poles for catfish and perch. Strautman and his three brothers didn’t hunt because their dad didn’t like the taste of wild meat. But their neighbors down the road ate turtle soup.
The Strautman family had no electricity. No telephone.On the farm, the Strautmans used horses and steam-driven harvesters to tend the land. Strautman’s early morning chore was to harness the horses for the day — usually two of them.
The family had a huge garden with all sorts of vegetables and fruit. Strautman remembers weeding the potatoes with a hoe.
They lived in a time without Christmas tree farms, when fathers and sons trudged into the woods to find the right evergreen. Strautman’s family didn’t chop today’s traditional tree. Instead, they picked branches from the red cedars that crowded the farm. The family used them to decorate a Nativity scene — which now sits in Strautman’s Carroll home.
Strautman graduated high school in 1945, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and went to Europe for World War II. He later studied as an agriculture teacher at the University of Missouri, where he joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Strautment was activated in 1952 and arrived in South Korea for the tail end of the war. He was released early and enrolled in an Iowa State University master’s program.
Strautman’s desire to dirty his hands and plant and harvest led him to buy a sandy-soiled acreage near Cambridge, about six miles southeast of his Ames school. He figured there was money in Christmas trees.
But trees take years to grow, so he took a job in Bayard as an agriculture teacher — as a stand-in for a soldier who went to South Korea. Strautmen later took a job at Kuemper Catholic High School, where he spent the next 31 years as an agriculture teacher and counselor. His children worked the Cambridge farm in the summers. Some used it for school science projects.
Strautman bought the Glidden farm in 1976 to be closer to home. The family sold trees from their front yard in Carroll for years.
“People would pop in,” Strautman said, well beyond normal business hours. People drove by and parked and studied the trees and ask questions.
Strautman eventually sold his larger tree farm in Cambridge in 1998 and put up a building on the Glidden farm for sales.
And now, the Glidden farm is for sale.
The move has drawn his children and grandchildren from across the country to the farm this year to cut their final “Grandpa tree,” as they say.
“From the smallest tree that barely squeaks above ground, to the tallest one that stands majestically toward the heavens, the trees have been a cornerstone of our family,” said daughter Mary Jeffers, who learned to drive a car on her family’s tree farm.
Strautman’s granddaughter Ellen Baker of Chicago traveled with her children for the first time this year to the Glidden farm to cut a tree.
“This was their first — and last sadly — time going to get it ourselves,” she said.
Strautman now plans to scale back his life. He wants to walk more and volunteer at a local Veterans Affairs clinic.
And no matter whom he sells the farm to, there must be an agreement that he can return to chop his favorite tree.
“I always choose the best one I can find,” he said.