Stepping into the fields of Evergreen Park Tree Farm in Glenwood is like walking in a winter wonderland. Acres of trees — balsam fir, Fraser fir, Canaan fir, white spruce and white pine — stretch as far as the eye can see.
Visitors to the farm may opt to stroll the grounds in search of the perfect Christmas tree or hitch a ride on the hayrack or sleigh, depending on whether or not there is snow on the ground.
Once the tree has been selected, guests bring their find to a quaint, Amish-built log cabin where, inside, they find home-baked treats, hot apple cider and a cozy warm fire.
The couple who greet the guests are just as welcoming. This experience is a tradition and a passion for Phil and Catherine Stumpf, who own and run the tree farm. The Stumpfs are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Glenwood.
Phil Stumpf grew up on a farm in Pierz, where he first fell in love with trees during his high school years. He studied forestry in the Future Farmers of America organization. That passion matched with his love of Christmas, and “all the magic it brings” led him to develop Evergreen Park.
He began planting the Christmas tree stock about 17 years ago. It takes about 10 years for a seedling to grow into a Christmas tree, about six to eight feet tall. This is their eighth year of selling Christmas trees.
“It’s not a business, it’s a passion,” said Phil, who works as a sales representative for American Solutions for Business in Glenwood. “Families come and cut down a tree. It’s an experience. It’s not just about the tree. A family might spend an hour to two in our fields. Cutting the tree is just one part. It’s the fellowship; it’s sitting around the fire talking to other people and friends.”
Catherine prepares all the goodies the guests enjoy and spends time visiting with them in the little cabin, which is also a place Phil sometimes goes to pray the rosary once the visitors have gone.
Their Catholic faith is a big part of their lives, and the Stumpfs believe in giving back to the community. Each year, they choose an organization to tithe a percentage of their profits from the sale of the trees. In past years, they’ve given to the Pope County food shelf, the humane society and to families in need.
“This year, close to my heart is the Catholic Church. We want to give back to Sacred Heart and St. Bartholomew [the twinned parish in Villard] for some activities for the kids in the religious education program,” Phil said.
The Stumpfs have been members of Sacred Heart for almost 40 years. Phil taught religious education there for about 10 years.
“He is well loved here at the parish,” said parish secretary Katherine Chevalier, whose children had Phil as a teacher. “The Stumpfs are very generous to the parish and in the community.”
Chevalier said the funds raised by the Stumpfs will be earmarked for youth activities, such as the parishes’ “Ignite Youth” program — geared toward youth in grades five through eight — and to offset expenses for their summer programming, which includes trips to Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis and Feed My Starving Children, which has various locations in the Twin Cities area.
Phil hopes the message the kids get is more than just about the money.
“It’s more than just giving back to the community or the church. I hope it can be a teaching moment for the younger audience that it’s not ‘our’ money. We are just caretakers of money. And by me giving back, I might set an example for our young students that they will follow in my footsteps. Everything we have is because of God, not because of me,” he said.
Mandy and John Recker, also members of Sacred Heart, have been going to the Stumpfs’ tree farm every year since it opened. This year, they brought their three children: Sophie, 9, Evie, 8, and Lucy, almost 5.
“Phil really has a good time with the kids. He makes it fun for them,” Mandy said. “We always have a great time. What’s even more special is that he remembers them when he sees them at church and they remember him. It’s really about building community. The icing on the cake is that we know part of the cost goes to a charity and this year to the church.”
When Christmas comes around, trees from the Stumpfs’ farm will grace the sanctuaries of the two parishes. For Phil, it’s a symbol of how his faith and passion collide.
“The trees teach me patience. When you plant a tree, you have no control over the rain, early frost, climate. I’m not in control and I have to trust in God,” he said. “When you plant a hundred trees, they, like people, all have different personalities and grow at a different rate. Yet we find beauty in each one of the trees.”