Tending to evergreens and bum knees

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  • PHOTO BY Becca Tucker

Dirt: You live on Platz Therapy Place. How do you get a street named after you?

Elmer Platz: You buy a sign. Well, I built this and it looks like a road, so I put a road sign on it. It used to be Rehab Therapy Place, but all the people who had addictions were stealing my sign. So we had to change it.

How does a Christmas tree farmer become a physical therapist?

I started out in forestry school at the University of Montana and realized it wasn’t a good fit. There was an education disruption and a change in majors. I became a humanitarian, concentrating on helping people through physical therapy. Establishing Mt. Vernon Tree Farm in 1985, I was able to get back to my forestry roots. I’ve been a PT for 45 years now but I still love being outside.

Is there any overlap between your two occupations?

I tell my forestry friends I’ve got about 2,000 visitors a year to my farm. ‘How do you do that?’ ‘Well, they’re all my patients.’ And if my patients need to walk more, I send them out for a walk. Walking is the best exercise of all. A lot of times people underestimate what their capacity is, and when you get ‘em out here walking around they can do a half mile easily. That’s a lot if you’ve had issues.

Is there any special training or certification for Christmas tree growing?

Just grow them!

What types of trees do you raise at Mt. Vernon Farms?

Firs – balsams, Douglas, blue Douglas and Fraser. Spruces include Norway, Colorado blue, majestic blue, Serbian and Englemann. Our pines are black pine, Austrian and Scotch.

What’s your favorite tree?

I like greenness. My favorite has always been the Norway spruce. It’s also an extremely hardy tree. Because of its healthy green coloring, we mostly grow Norways.

How do you start a Christmas tree?

Fir cones, pine cones, spruce cones. The cones contain seeds and the process is very technical. I trust and use a seedling growing company based in Montana and Washington states. I tell my customers the seedlings are born in Montana or Washington but are raised in New Jersey.

How long does it take for tree to mature?

A standard eight-foot tree needs 8 to 12 years to mature, always depending on conditions. When we cut a tree, we always check the rings. They tell the tree’s story.

What’s the most fun part of your farmer job?

It’s being outdoors and educating people on the crop. Maybe it’s even juggling my two careers, though the tree farm demands more hours.

Which part would you outsource if you could?

Definitely weeding. Weeds are never lacking, they are all-weather pests.

Who buys your trees?

Customers come from cities down in Bergen, Essex, Passaic and other counties to get those fresh country trees. They make day trips out of the excursions, even doing on site picnics and tailgate parties. We have select-and-cut or the containerized types.

What’s with deal with the containerized trees?

We’re not killing trees for the holiday season. They can be purchased in containers, used indoors for the holiday, then planted outdoors. Some customers even plant their containerized Christmas trees as memory trees to remember loved ones.

What is one thing people don’t know about Christmas trees?

People don’t realize all the work it takes to plant, care for and raise a tree to Christmas tree status. Christmas trees are seasonal, but their cultivation is a four season job.

Interviewed by Janet Redyke

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