The 2016 Tree Farmers of the year are Jim and Jan Kessler of Hallstead, PA in Susquehanna County. Jim and Jan’s 43 acre property, 32 acres of woods and 12 acres of open land, was purchased in 1977. Jim and a neighbor schoolteacher built their family home on the property during the summer of 1978. Wood from the Tree Farm was used in much of the home’s construction. Firewood from the farm is the sole heat source for the house as well.
Beginning in 1979, Christmas trees were planted in the open fields. Each year, between 1,000 and 2,000 seedlings were planted until the completion of their initial plan; they began selling trees in 1985. Each of the 4 kids, as they became old enough, had their own “patch” of trees to plant and care for. They also helped make maple syrup and built birdhouses for the Conservation District’s annual seedling sale. Now that their children are grown, it is the grandkids who help with the farm activities.
Timber and lumber are sold as opportunities arise. Other activities on the Tree Farm include five miles of trails, including neighboring properties. The trails are used for horseback riding, snowmobiling, hiking, and lots of cross-country skiing. The Kessler’s enjoy hunting, picnicking, and nature walks. Each of the kids learned that “we don’t leave any ugly trees in our woods! And, we always want to protect the trees while having fun.” Deer fences and repellents are used to protect trees from deer. The Kessler’s have also taught their kids, “Money always grows on trees. You just need to learn how to get it out!”
Retiring after 40 years as the DCNR Bureau of Forestry Service Forester in Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties, Jim has found lots of ways to stay busy. This Penn State graduate is on the board of directors of the Susquehanna County Conservation District and Penn State Susquehanna County Extension, the Friends of Salt Springs Park, Woodbourne Sanctuary, and Camp Lackawanna in addition to working with the local church. A Rotarian and Master Gardener, Jim is very active in the Susquehanna County Forest Landowners Association and has worked with Envirothon for years.
The Kessler’s Tree Farm has hosted numerous activities including Christmas tree growing classes, Master Gardener I & D classes, public school programs, and Susquehanna County Forest Landowner Association events. This year the Kessler’s Tree Farm easily passed a third-party national audit with barely a moment’s notice; they are proud to post their Certified Tree Farm sign.
Jim and Jan Kessler have four grown children. Besides operating Kessler’s Christmas Tree Farm, Jim enjoys traveling, hunting, cross country skiing and woodworking.
(From left to right) Jim Kessler, 2016 PA Tree Farmer of the Year; Susan Benedict, PA Tree Farm Committee Chair; Jan Kessler, 2016 PA Tree Farmer of the Year; Gene Odato, President, PFA. Credit: Dustin Walker
The Pennsylvania Forestry Association
PO Box 208
106 School St. Suite 208
Spring Mills, PA 16875