Harvest a holiday memory at the Herrmanns'
If you go... 

Here are directions to the Herrmanns' Evergreen Farms:

From Rome, take Route 46 north.

Three miles north of Woods Valley Ski Area turn right on Tannery Road.

Proceed one mile on pavement, uphill, and bear left at "Dead End" sign. Continue one mile on dirt road. It is a one-lane seasonal road. Chains and four-wheel drive vehicles recommended.

The trees are on the left - along with Bob and helpers "Sheba" and Buddy".

Christmas tree care

From a lot or fresh from the field, a Christmas tree won't make it through the holidays without plenty of water.

The first day a tree is brought in the house, it will soak up about a gallon of water, according to tree grower W Robert Herrmann, who operates a farm off Tannery Road in Northwestern.

First, the tree trunk needs a fresh cut. "If the tree has laid around, sap oozes out of the trunk and glazes over, preventing water intake, Bob explained.

He also advises finding a spot for the tree away from radiators and fireplaces. The warm air dries them out.

Wholesaled trees stored out of the sun and wind don't loose their moisture content, Bob noted. If stored properly, they'll retain their "freshness" even if they were cut at the end of October, beginning of November when the trees are typically toppled.

Consumers should look at color and needle retention. Avoid trees already turning brown or yellow and trees dropping a lot of needles.

Each year Bob wholesales about 100 trees. For the less adventurous, felled trees are delivered to the lot at Rome Marine on Erie Boulevard West with the help of neighbor Peter Giesse.

But, it's the families that venture over the hills and through the woods to Bob's farm that he enjoys.

The regulars "come up and have snowball fights, take pictures, and make an incredible event out of this," Bob said. With permission, some even make their selection during a mid-autumn picnic, then return to meet Bob for the "chop down" a couple of weeks before Christmas.

It's hard to say why people brave the cold and snow to tramp through a field of trees. Maybe it's the thrill of the hunt, the pristine beauty of the landscape or knowing that this is truly a "fresh-cut" tree. But, each year Bob sells about a 100 evergreens to these treasure hunters.

"It's a family event. People come with children and pets and cameras. I can't explain it," Bob said. One year the road conditions were really icy, so he set up a corner stand about a mile from the field. "They were cut and ready to go, but people would come by and say 'we want to go out into the fields and get it.'"

The last mile to the field is along a one lane dirt road which winds uphill and down, curling through some of the nicest woods you'll ever see. "If road conditions are poor, it's not wise to go back there with less than four-wheel drive."

Over the years, Bob has developed a customer base by word of mouth, but now he wants to get more into the cut-your-own business.

"There's a market place where people want to go into the field," Bob said. "It's a treasure hunt, they want to find the very best. It's the easy way for the grower, except that he has to be around." And Bob is almost always around this time of year.

Though it's been only 18 years since he planted the first tree, Bob, 55, has a lifetime of memories tied to the property. His father, William E. Herrmann, purchased the 154-acre farm from Willie and Star Sturdevant in 1953 and the family spent summers vacationing there.

His father had seen the property as a teen when he travelled from New Jersey to visit cousins. When the Sturdevants were about to sell the land to the state for $4 an acre because it was marginal farmland, he jumped in with an offer.

"It was a kind of exciting adventure just to make the trip from New Jersey," Bob recalled. "This was before the Thruway and we'd take these back roads through all the towns.

"When my dad came up, that must have been in the 1920s, I don't know if there really were formal roads at all. It was a two-day trip and along the way they'd have to repair tires. He brought a kit along with him. Once he got to Boonville, Willie would have to meet him with a horse and wagon.

"I have a lot of fond memories." During his youth, his family spent the summer holidays getting back to the basics. "It was a camp, there's an old farm house there and we got by with a kerosene stove for taking the chill off cool summer nights and we cooked over a wood fire."

The days were filled with childhood adventures, exploring, playing, hunting and fishing. -"There are a lot of pictures. My father was an amateur photographer."

One Bob titled "The unfortunate porcupine" features a boy and dog and his gun with a dead porcupine in front. Bob is the boy.

The farm is still the site for family gatherings for Bob, his wife, Virginia, and their grown children, Robert, Peter, and Andrea. They share the wooded farmland with friends every Labor Day and have campouts and cookouts.

A TREE FOR YOU -The license plate says it all.

DOWN MEMORY LANE - Cut conifers are carted to balers on a Dec. 5,1996

"The kids come up and set up tents, cook their own food and rough it. We get wet in the rain and get cold," Bob said. They go hiking, fishing, swimming and mountain biking. Their friendly pet dogs, Buddy and Sheba, often settle under one of the wild apple trees.

"I love the rolling hills, the outdoors, the streams," Bob said. The area is "rich in history. At one time it was all contiguous farms. There were no trees around. Every 100 acres had a farmhouse and a barn. "Some stone foundations remain visible.

Once the Black River Canal was completed in the mid-1800's the area "probably really thrived" as farmers moved from pure subsistence farming to selling their crops to the market, he surmised. "It was the breadbasket for New York City."

Bob's 154 acres are two pieces of the Stringer and Lush Patent which was subdivided into twenty 100-acre parcels in the late 1700s.

By the time Bob got around to clearing 15 acres for his tree farm in 1978, the pastureland had returned to the wild. He planted Christmas trees to "try and preserve some of the openness of the farmland that was there," he explained.

Using a 1950 Model B John Deere tractor with a seven-foot sicklebar, Bob removed enough brush to make 30 piles, 10 to 12 feet high and 30 feet in diameter. The rusty relic still stands as a sentinel to its work. "I'm going to get it going again," Bob vowed, with a chuckle.

Today, for the labor-intensive job of maintaining the farm, Bob has the key to a Kubota 7 100, three-cylinder, 16-horse power diesel tractor with heavy-duty mower deck. It was a gift from Santa. He uses it to keep the brush down between the tree rows and hooks up a wagon to carry toppled spruces out of the field.

Spruces were not always his tree of choice, but Bob was "forced into it on account of the deer," he explained. He initially planted 7,000 to 9,000 fir trees which did well for the first two years. "Then in the third year the snow left early in the spring leaving them exposed. The deer ate them back to stalks. They finished them. I was out of the fir business.

Please turn to page 5

next page