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Christmas Time is Here: Talking Christmas Trees with Tuckaway Tree Farm

This week’s episode is another feature from the Ag Biz Cast Podcast. Launched in August, Ag Biz Cast shares inspiring stories of young, beginning, and small farmers. It is targeted at current, past, and future participants of the Ag Biz Masters educational program, but anyone is invited to listen. In today’s episode we interviewed Larry and Ashley Latta, the owners and operators of Tuckaway Tree Farm. Larry and Ashley are also graduates of the AgBiz Masters program. Find the link to the full podcast here:

Can you tell our listeners about your operation, including some history and how you both got started with the farm?
Larry - We first saw the farm about seven years ago looking at our wedding venue. A few years after that, we met with the owner and that was 2016. We didn't go through with it at that time, but it was always on the back of our minds. Then last year, we ended up purchasing the farm. It came back around full circle, and we bought it last May.

We will primarily be a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm. Right now, we're growing seven different types of evergreens. This year, we added a nursery section with some shade and ornamental trees as well. That's something else that will help us to diversify a little bit away from our core.

Ashley - We have a couple year gap. There were a few years that the previous owner didn't plant, so we probably have about two to three years until we have enough mature trees to have a full choose-and-cut season. We've just been sharing our story now and hoping to have some other events to get people out to the farm. We’ve been learning a lot and starting to grow the business.

Why do you enjoy farming and operating an agricultural business? And what inspires you to stay in that business?
Larry - I love working outside and working with my hands. I'm really excited that I finally, at this point, have the opportunity to do so. We also wanted to be able to work together and this is something that allows us to do that. Ashley's still full-time working from home. Then during evenings and weekends, we are working together and hoping to eventually transition her out of her full-time career and have both of us working on the farm.

What was the biggest challenge in starting the business that you have now?
Ashley - We are first generation in agriculture. We don't have any background. Our biggest challenge was a lack of experience. We have a lot to learn. We are really fortunate that the previous owner actually lives next door to us and is still involved in showing us the ropes and being a mentor to us. I think, there is so much to learn and we needed to get that experience that we didn’t have.

Can you share your favorite memory from the business from the past year since you've got it started?
Larry - I think one of the big things about this business is the memories that we get to create and share with other people, not just with our extended friends and network and community, but especially with our family. We don't have a lot of mature trees, but we did have a handful so this year we had some family and friends come out and they cut trees. Seeing the kids playing and running through the trees was just a wonderful time.

Ashley - We also were able to cut down our first Christmas tree on the property, which was a really cool experience. We had come to Tuckaway Tree Farm as customers for the past few years. Then being able to walk out our front door, go find our Christmas tree, cut it down, and bring it back was a really cool experience too.

Since you operate such a young business, can you tell our listeners what you envision for the future of it?
Ashley - We are looking to build a place for our community. We want to be a part of family traditions. We're hoping to have Christmas events in the future and be able to get people to bring their families out here to get their Christmas tree so they can have that special day.

We also are looking at other ways to get people out to the farm throughout the year. We planted pumpkins this year. We're hoping to have a fall festival and we’re looking for other opportunities to get people to the farm throughout the summer and different seasons too.

Can you tell us in your own words, what does AgBiz Masters teach young and beginning farmers like yourself?
Larry - I think the biggest thing we took away was developing a system to track and understand our numbers that are the heart and soul of the business. Now, I don't really look at mowing as a chore. It's why am I doing it? When am I doing it? What's the result of me doing it? What are my costs of doing so? Keeping track of all that and knowing how that flows throughout the business and the operations to help us plan moving forward has been a large takeaway.

How did AgBiz Masters help you improve the operation that you have?
Ashley - I think it helped us because we were just starting out, so it helped us really get a structure in place with a lot of our planning and forecasting. We have some business backgrounds in different areas, but not in agriculture. It gave us that foundation to be able to think through all the inputs and outputs when we were planning for the future years for our farm.

What piece of advice do you have for young and beginning farmers that are looking to start their own business as you guys did?
Larry - It's always helpful to have a mentor. Don't be afraid to ask questions because you will make mistakes. It's how we learn from them that we grow. That's been tremendous for us, having the previous owner here to show us what to do and then we go do it.

One of the biggest things is that it's scary, but you have to do it. You don't want to look back and wonder, well, what if? Going for it is my biggest piece of advice because there's a huge network of people. Everyone wants to see you succeed and continue these traditions and keep agriculture strong so you will find the right people to help you.

Ashley - There's a lot of programs and resources out there to help young and beginning farmers too. AgBiz Masters is one. We're also joining the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association and attending those meetings. Any chance to network and talk to other people with more experience is always helpful.

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