TO THOSE counting down the days until the arrival of Christmas, here is a seasonal question on which to ponder: Santa has the present thing covered, so who makes sure the world has enough Christmas trees for the upcoming festivities?
At least for anyone living near Lansing, the generally accepted answer should hardly come as any surprise: Antonia "Toni" Wierzbicki .
She is the person from this local area who has a great influence on Christmas tree growth, maintenance, and sales.
ANTONIA?WIERZBICKI, is pictured in the photo above with a few of the pre-cut tree available at the farm she operates in Belmont County.
Though she would never consider actually making such a claim, many of those familiar with the Christmas tree farm and the amount of work she does there on a day to day basis year round would likely argue that she has already earned that distinction through her life's many good works.
The now legendary family business was launched somewhat by accident, according to the close knit family's matriarch, and they simply have never looked back.
The land on which the popular Christmas tree farm was established was purchased at a sheriff's auction by Antonia and her husband, Ted.
At the time of the purchase, the couple could not possibly have foreseen the magnitude of the business potential which lay beneath their feet, but it wouldn't take long before it began making its presence known, and the trees have been their cash crop ever since.
After their parents initially purchased the land, the five Wierzbicki children were given the duty of helping fill in areas where the lack of plant life made it look unsightly and unproductive.
They began filling those unsightly gaps with readily available pine tree saplings.
"People thought we were growing Christmas trees to sell," she recalled with a broad smile.
The industrious and resourceful Wierzbicki children sold Christmas trees for a whopping 75 cents a tree back then.
Sixty-three years later, the market for Christmas trees remains strong, and though the family lost Ted Sr. to complications brought on by a stroke some years ago, his influence on the Christmas tree farm and its operations is still felt daily as his loving wife, "Toni," continues to lead the family and its business .
She is not a person to stand back and have others do work for her.
Toni believes in getting involved in the hands on end of the business, and is as knowledgeable and experienced at any of the jobs needing done on the farm as is anyone.
The couple had been living well outside the region and made the decision to return to the Upper Ohio Valley area after being told the move would help a chronic lung condition one of their children suffered.
This proved to be a move that would touch many lives in a positive direction for years to come, as it continues to do today.
"We've been around long enough that we are selling trees to the third generation of families. We even have regular customers who make the trip from Cincinnati to buy their Christmas trees from our farm," shared Wierzbicki.
Always one to make any guest feel welcomed in her home; she is likely to be found offering up hot coffee, a hot cup of tea, or even cocoa to those who venture down the gravel driveway connecting the barn section from the house and open sections of land. She will often make fresh pastries to share with customers who stop at the hilltop location of the business.
When buying a tree from Toni Wierzbicki, customers quickly find it is not exactly operated in a run of the mill fashion.
The operation is operated as a "choose and cut" Christmas tree business, giving those purchasing trees access to the freshest cut trees possible, simply because they are not harvested from the plantation field until the purchaser arrives to cut the tree and transport it home for set up and to decorate.
Purchasing a tree from this Christmas tree farm is a two visit process which generally begins in September when clients visit the hilltop to scout out, select, tag, and register their choice in the log book that is the key to this virtually flawless system, according to Wierzbicki.
There has never been a big problem with someone taking a tree someone else had marked for themselves she offered.
"For a lot of our customers the two trips to our plantation will be the second and final stages for such things," she said.
Simply by following some signs posted along a steep and winding rural road in the Lansing portion of County Road 18 in Belmont County you will quickly find yourself driving down the lane which leads directly to the hilltop red barns that serves as the Christmas tree's business's headquarters.
She enjoys watching the trees grow in size and in beauty from one season to the next, as they near maturity and begin getting ready to be harvested for a customer.
This mother of five, grandmother and great-grandmother is quite comfortable donning a New York Yankees baseball cap and heading out to the barn for a day filled with hands-on tasks to do.
The farm offers nine types of trees for sale : Douglas Fir, White Pine, Scotch Pine, Colorado Spruce, White Spruce, Serbian Spruce, Fraser Fir, Cannan Fir, and the seldom seen Concolor Fir.
Several thousand Christmas trees are harvested each winter on Wierzbicki's "plantation," as she lovingly refers to the farm.
"Every year we have to go back and plant 45 acres of new trees to replenish the inventory we will have just sold," she explained.
"It is a lot of work," she said with a smile and in a voice so quiet it can barely be heard by anyone other than Toni herself.
Operating the Christmas tree farm for 63 years is a true labor of love, as the coming of each new Christmas season signals a return trip "home" to the Christmas tree farm for many old and dear friends - and holds the promise of opportunities to make new friends.
"We've been selling Christmas trees to three generations of families now," she offered, noting many of the families who come to the local business consider the outing a part of their holiday traditions.
A fact that could not make Toni more proud of her family and its business.
"I didn't know anything about farming," is her answer when asked how it was she and her late husband, Ted Sr., had happened to get started in the Christmas tree farming industry.
The hand of destiny seemed determined to play a role in the family's overall future successes as most are today involved in some aspect of the Christmas tree business, or in related venture.
"Our son, Ted Wierzbicki Jr., has about 400 acres dedicated to the production of larger Christmas trees, and our daughter, Antonia "Toni" Wierzbicki owns and operates the popular flower shop, Bellisima - Simply Beautiful Flowers on Edgington Lane in Wheeling.
"Toni can take some of the things we have hand made here and add some extra items to them to come up with something to give it that extra kick a customer wants," offered Wierzbicki
"Most of the things we make here are more along the line of something natural looking." A decision considered quite popular among its regular clientele which have included sports superstars as Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.
Christmas tree shoppers wanting a live tree, one that comes with its root ball wrapped securely in burlap - ready for replanting - can also find these trees available at the Lansing business, with the larger trees being brought out of the ground with the help of a very specialized machine.
She takes great pride in treating customers like old friends and welcomed guests.
Spend a few minutes with this woman of perpetual motion and you will quickly come to understand there is basically only one place you are likely to see her standing relatively still: at the foot operated wreath machine in the operation's barn where she spends hours daily constructing pine wreathes of various sizes and shapes.
She has one word of advice to share with newcomers to the choose and cut Christmas tree tradition: the best vehicle to employ to safely transport your Christmas tree from the farm to home is a pick- up truck, or an equally functional vehicle.
When asked to explain what makes her legendary Christmas tree farm stand apart from others her answer comes quickly and with a note of longing for traditions too often falling by the wayside in today's world.
"Nobody does what we do anymore."
Toni can be reached at the Christmas tree farm by calling 740-635-0141.
Loccisano may be reached at email@example.com