ON THEIR FIVE-ACRE farm in rural Petaluma, Bob and Marilyn Larsen grow and sell Monterey pines and other evergreens destined for Christmas mornings all across Marin. With each sale, they throw in an indelible memory — the cut of the handsaw into the fragrant pinesap, the fresh-fallen tree strapped to the roof of the sedan — that draws families back for generations.
How did this all start? Bob: My parents bought the place in 1918. It was a chicken farm. We went out of the chicken business in 1960 and started growing Christmas trees in 1963.
Why? Our neighbor had a tree farm and I used to help sell the trees and it was such fun. We needed some trees for a windbreak — and wound up buying about 500 seedlings. My neighbor said I should start a tree farm. And I thought, “That’s not a bad idea.” We had four kids and we thought it’d be a great family thing.
What’s easier, chickens or trees? Trees are easier. Chickens are seven days a week. You had to be there every day. With these, there are only certain times — the pruning and the selling — that are restrictive.
How many trees do you sell each year? It varies, 600 to 800. About a third are precut.
And how many do you have growing? About 5,000.
Wow! Marilyn: Well, they grow slowly.
How are sales? Less than before. Partly because people buy those plastic trees and a lot of these box stores sell trees. Back in the ’70s and ’80s there were at least a dozen tree farms in the Petaluma area. Now there’s only three left. We have this one and our daughter and son-in-law have the other two.
What kind of people come? Bob: Families — and almost all of them from Marin County. Marilyn: I see families who tell me, I came here as a little boy and now I’m bringing my family. In the carport, we have a display of pictures that people have given us. One picture is of two little boys about age 2 and recently their grandfather came up with one of the boys and he’s now in college. People always check to see if their picture is still there.
When’s your busiest weekend? It used to be the second or third weekend of December, but now it’s the first weekend right after Thanksgiving (when we open). People know if they take care of the tree it will last longer and they want to get the best tree so they come out early.
You were married in 1949. What’s your secret? Behaving yourself. We haven’t had much fun, but we’ve behaved ourselves (big laugh).
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “A Cut Above”.