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Pinke: Visit Cupkie Christmas Village for a family tree farm experience

Breanna Zepper, right, of Cupkie Christmas Village, helps Katie Pinke choose a "kissing ball" and garland for holiday decorations. Derek Fletcher / Forum News Service1 / 4
Katie Pinke2 / 4
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 27 percent of Americans buy their fresh Christmas trees from a tree farm. Cupkie Christmas Village, near Richville Minn., plants 6,500 trees annually. Derek Fletcher/ Forum News Service3 / 4
Michael Izarraraz, of Cupkie Christmas Village near Richville, Minn., assists Katie Pinke with a fresh Christmas tree she purchased. Derek Fletcher / Forum News Service4 / 4

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, 27 percent of Americans who purchase a real Christmas tree visit a tree farm to choose and cut their tree. Last season, Americans spent $27.4 million on fresh Christmas trees and paid an average of $75 per tree versus $21.1 million spent on fake trees, paying an average of $107 per tree.

I have both real and fake Christmas trees in our home and set out to learn more about Christmas tree farming this season by visiting Cupkie Christmas Village at Richville, Minn., situated in the heart of Otter Tail County.

Todd Cupkie is an accidental Christmas tree farmer. He was a fresh college graduate in the late 1990s when his father and stepmother called Todd to help them in their startup Christmas tree business and work in their Cupkie Accounting and Tax Service business. Today, along with six full-time employees and six seasonal employees, Todd remains rooted in the businesses.

“In the summer of ‘98, I was done with college. Dad wanted to start opening up the Christmas tree farm. The first two weeks were really interesting; all you could see out here were mainly weeds out in the first section of the farm and then the bigger trees in back. Then over the course of the years, we kind of changed. Our philosophy changed, and we actually wanted to start a tradition for families to come out to the farm and spend the day and enjoy themselves,” Cupkie said.

What stood out to me right away at my first visit to Cupkie Christmas Village were the value-added agriculture and agritourism aspects of the Cupkie Christmas Village business. It’s not a commodity Christmas tree purchase they are focused on. It’s building up the experience and adding more to family traditions. Cupkie’s isn’t situated near a large population area. Or, as Todd said, “We’re in the middle of nowhere of Minnesota. It’s not a bad thing … we don’t have a lot of big cities and stuff like a lot of the other farms that are a part of the Minnesota Christmas Tree Growers Association which are closer to the Twin Cities. One of our biggest followings is people coming from North Dakota.”

“Like me,” I replied, the prairie-dweller North Dakotan who drove 200 mostly treeless miles to see the Christmas tree farm, experience it and haul home not only a fresh cut tree but garland for our porch and a “kissing ball” of greenery to hang. I brought my husband, daughters and in-laws for a return visit last Saturday.

While growing their business, Cupkie Christmas Village is a part of sustainable agriculture.

Todd said, “I plant 6,500 trees every year with the hopes that by the time they get to harvestable size, that half of them will remain. And a lot people say well, I’d hate to cut down that tree. Each one of these trees, a pine cone falls on the ground and I’ll get five or six more trees that come up. They self-generate. They die naturally.”

Cupkie Christmas Village is open daily through Dec. 22. Even if your Christmas tree is already up in your home, it’s an experience to visit, shop the gifts and decorations, ride the trolley, see Santa, buy a wreath for yourself or your neighbor and enjoy creating a new family tradition.