For three generations, a family-owned and operated business has brightened the homes of many mid-Michigan families during the holiday season.
Located on N. Coldwater Road in Weidman, Vander Sys Tree Farm Nursery was established by Jake and Barbara Vander Sys in January 1959. Their daughter Laura Allen and her husband Steve took over the business in 1982 and their four adult children Jacob, Stephanie, Jeb, and Hanna along with other family members, help out with the business in their spare time.
“All the kids really like Christmas time,” says Laura Allen. “They like the work, and they're proud of the farm…but they each have full-time jobs and mostly help on the weekends or after work. It ends up being a very long day, you know it's like nine in the morning to eight o'clock at night.”
Vander Sys Tree Farm Nursery owner Laura Allen, her daughter Hanna, and the family dog Wilson, help put the finishing touches on a tree for a customer, removing the lower branches of a tree.
The business operates primarily off of the 160-acre property which includes the family home. The family makes decorations such as wreaths, garland, and grave blankets from excess branches and offers additional services free of charge such as tree baling, which binds the tree and makes it easier to transport and less susceptible to damage.
“We can shake and drill the tree if they need it,” says Allen. “We also sell a tree stand that's called a Stand Strait tree stand, and it has a pin in it that fits a tapered hole that we can drill in the bottom of the tree. It's not like a regular straight hole, a tapered hole allows the tree to sit down and not wobble.”
The Rudy family's 7-foot Fraser Fir tree is put through a tree baler, which puts a wrap around the tree making it more compact and less likely to be damaged during transportation.
Various types of trees grow on the farm such as Frasier Fir, Balsam Fir, and Blue Spruce.
“Some people like Blue Spruce because they like the color,” says Allen. “They’re really pokey and heavy branched. If you put heavy ornaments on they'll hold it a little better, but they don't hold their needles as well. Then there's Frasier fir which have stiffer branches but softer needles, so they hold their needles very well.”
Vander Sys Tree Farm Nursery sells decorations such as wreaths, garland, and grave blankets, and offers customers the option to choose and cut down their own tree.
Customers have the option to choose and cut down their own tree on the property, but for the last 50 years they have also set up a pre-cut tree lot in Mt. Pleasant in the parking lot of Harbor Freight. Allen says the tree lot goes up the weekend before Thanksgiving and her son Jacob helps to organize and run it.
“It's great to have family that you can really trust handling something in town,” says Allen. “My husband can then run and get other special orders, or come out here if I have a problem.”
Laura Allen, owner of Vander Sys Tree Farm Nursery, creates a wreath.
Mt. Pleasant resident Sally Rudy is a long-time customer of Vander Sys and says that her family switched around five years ago from using an artificial tree to a live Christmas tree.
“We wanted to enjoy the tradition of going to the tree farm together, finding a Christmas tree and cutting one down with our kids,” says Rudy. “We have always gone to Vander Sys. I remember going there when I was a child to get our family Christmas tree, either to their tent on Pickard or out to the tree farm. I like that they have a large tree farm with lots of different trees to choose from.”
The Rudy family pose for a photo next to their Christmas tree, a 7-foot Fraser Fir that they cut down at Vander Sys Tree Farm Nursery, in Weidman, Michigan.
Sally and her husband James with their children Logan (left), 7, and Connor, 5.
Rudy says her family always gets a Fraser Fir for Christmas because they like the tree’s soft, short needles. Her children, seven-year-old Logan and five-year-old Connor, usually decorate the tree now that they are older.
“Once my husband puts the lights on the tree the kids take control and make all the choices about what goes on the tree and where to hang it,” says Rudy. “We’ve lost a fair few ornaments in the process and we now only get out one bin with mostly non-delicate ornaments. The end result is never a Pinterest-worthy specimen, but the kids love it and that’s what is important to us.”
The Rudy family decorates their Christmas tree. Photo by Sally Rudy Photography.
For a business whose peak season is during the holidays, Allen says the family always celebrated their own Christmas a little later.
“Sometimes we went camping or skiing in January out to Colorado,” says Allen. “We always loaded them up in a big van, went on a big ski trip. So, we do our Christmas parties after Christmas and it's just a little different.”
Allen says their season generally runs from November through shortly before Christmas.
The Vander Sys family, 2019. Photo by Sally Rudy Photography.
“I will sell a tree anytime, I will sell it in July,” says Allen. “But there’s not much after December 22. Usually I’ll just put a sign on the door for them to call me or come to the house if someone comes and they find a tree. We’re very flexible because we live here.”
For questions about pricing or for more information on Vander Sys Tree Farm Nursery, visit them on Facebook or at vandersystreefarm.com.