Christmas has been a bittersweet time for Karena VanKippersluis and her family since her mother and father died just days apart nearly a decade ago.
Margaret and Tony had owned and operated the Rocky Mountain Christmas Tree U-Pick farm in Kentville for years, where families would come year after year to pick their own Christmas trees. After her parents passed away, VanKippersluis says she couldn’t imagine running the farm without them by her side. But they did decide to reopen and found those families were quick to support them again. They came out, one by one, to wander around and find their respective trees.
It’s a decision VanKippersluis is thankful she made, especially when families bring scrapbooks brimming with photos taken at the U-pick farm — photos and memories that would not exist had it not reopened. “It’s such a big part of their holiday and that one chance for downtime and of escaping that Christmas chaos. And seeing that we’re part of their traditions — it’s lovely to see that, too,” she says.
A family affair
The U-pick was opened in 1982 and was the place VanKippersluis and her parents called home.
Growing up on a Christmas tree U-pick meant VanKippersluis spent the vast majority of her young life trimming and selling trees — work that never felt daunting because it was in the name of Christmas.
Since the beginning, the U-pick has used tags early in the fall to mark trees that customers choose early for the upcoming Christmas. The customer writes their name, picks a tree and labels it theirs. After her mother passed, VanKippersluis’ first day back was emotional already and became decidedly more so when she discovered a tag with her mother’s handwriting. “I opened a drawer and saw the tag with my mother’s writing that she’d labelled for my tree,” she says.
Her mother was the matriarch of the farm and the one who was most familiar to customers, as she’d greet their children and pets. It’s this energy VanKippersluis, her husband, Sam Bunguy, and their children, Isaac, Annika and Marika, channel as they carry on with the Christmas operation. “Everyone recognized my mother and she knew her customers well. She loved talking to them,” says VanKippersluis.
New memories are forming for customers’ families and VanKippersluis’ family, too, as her children grow up and take on more responsibilities at the U-pick. Like their mother and grandparents before them, the siblings help with maintaining and selling the trees. Annika is even big enough to drive the small all-terrain vehicle around the property. Her growing confidence is both impressive and entertaining for her mother.
“I had to laugh when she shouted, ‘Wrap it up,’ as someone got their tree ready to go,” laughs VanKippersluis. “They’ve grown up around it and love being there. They are city kids, so being there, running around the property and helping people out is something they love.”
VanKippersluis says it all feels surreal each year when the Christmas season approaches and signs of that first snowfall hang in the air. It’s how being on the brink of another Christmas feels — and it finally arrives when that fresh dusting of snow falls softly as people find their perfectly quirky trees. “When they find it, they warm up with hot chocolate by the fire. That’s Christmas for us, when that moment comes,” says VanKippersluis.