La Verne Magazine
Spring 1998

"La Verne's Small-Town Businesses"


Christmas 365 Days a Year

by Louise Glanzrock
photography by Scott Harvey

 


Started on a whim by owner Robert Sturrock under the philosophy, "If you want to help the most people, open a Christmas tree farm" -- a quote from a 1960 issue of Sunset magazine -- his idea has grown. Sturrock was featured in the 1960 article as a charity worker. Meanwhile, his farm now supports more than 10,000 trees. The annually planted Monterey Pines grow eight feet tall in a three year period and sometimes reach 10 feet after five years.

Christmas happens once a year, but to Bob and Lori Sturrock, the holiday season is an everyday occurrence. The Sturrocks are the proud owners of the Sturrock Christmas Tree Farm on San Dimas Canyon Road.

It all began in 1961, when a friend of Bob's read an article in Sunset Magazine about Christmas tree farms. Back then, Christmas tree farms were just getting started. As a matter of fact, at the time, there were only about two or three in Southern California. Sturrock says, "My friend brought the article over and said, 'Maybe this is something we can do in our spare time.'"

They went to a lumber yard where Bob knew the owners, who were active in Boy Scouts, as were Bob and his friend. After he explained his idea about starting a Christmas tree farm, the friend told him he had a piece of property up in San Dimas Canyon. He told Bob to go look at it.

"The land was great, but it was very rough," says Bob. His friend leased them the land. In return, they had to pay taxes and do all the improvements for about five years.

In 1965, they got the farm started and began selling trees. In 1967, Bob's friend moved, and Bob bought him out.

Aside from the farm, Bob had other occupations. After college, he went to work for Best Form Foundations, which had just started a sewing factory in Pomona. The company manufactured bras and girdles. Bob worked as an administrator. Ten years later, the factory was closed, but the warehouse continued to stay open. Bob managed the warehouse for another 10 years. In 1972, the warehouse closed, and Bob went to work for a small garment manufacturer in Azusa.

Following, he worked for a company called Threads USA, which manufactured sewing thread. There, he worked as an office warehouse manager for about five years. While he was working full time, a man lived on the farm and did almost all of the work, taking over Sturrock's daily duties.

The year of 1979 was special to Bob Sturrock. He married his wife Lori. Between them, they have 12 children, 25 grandchildren and also some great-grandchildren. His wife helped him manage the farm and made sure things ran smoothly.

Bob retired in 1993 from Threads USA. Since then, he has been actively growing and selling Christmas Trees. The Sturrock's sell Monterey Pines, which all of the tree farms raise in Southern California."We've had our years that the selling has not been so good, and some years have been reasonably good," says Bob.

Regarding the stages of development for the trees, Bob says that for tax reasons many people just plant a little seedling in the ground and harvest it whenever it is ready. Under the tax law, if a tree is growing for at least six years before it is cut, the owner gets capital gains on the tree.

Bob nurtures the seedlings in pots for three years. After that, he plants them in the ground in sectioned off growth areas to ensure that whenever he cuts a tree, it is over the six-year IRS mark.

Throughout the year, Bob does almost everything himself, although occasionally he hires high school youths to pick up the slack. He has rigged a solid, set irrigation system because of the need to irrigate young trees in Southern California. Included, too, is a little nursery in which he keeps the potted trees. Twice a year, the trees are sheared. Skill is involved: a hand held machine is used to shear the trees into a Christmas tree shape. Sturrock also has to prune the trees, keep the weeds down and spray for bugs. "There's pretty much work all year around," he says.

The prices of the trees this season ranged from a six-foot tree going for between $36 to $40, and a seven-foot tree selling for $45. The tree prices, Sturrock says, are the same price as the Noble Furs purchased on a Christmas tree lot. One advantage of a Sturrock tree over a cut tree is that they are "nice and fresh, he says," adding, "They are like freshly cut flowers. You have to keep our trees in water because they are still green and growing. Our trees will last four to six weeks if you cut the butt when you get them home and keep them in water. Most other trees start losing their needles in the lot and end up not looking too good," he says.

"Since 1989, we've lost money every year. Our customer base has fallen because, No. 1, the recession, and, for many other reasons, our sales have declined since 1989," says Sturrock. Last year, business picked up a little from the year before. Pleasingly, he says, sales are starting back up again.

The Sturrock family has tried to make itself known through advertising. Family members have even appeared on television. Sturrock says that every few years he gains a news spot. In fact, anchorwoman Ann Martin, who at the time was with ABC, came out to the farm and filmed a short news clip on the lot.

"It's a good place to bring kids. We have six acres in trees and a total of 15 acres of land. A lot of the land is not usable. We have acres for the kids to run through and look at the trees. It gives people the family experience of cutting their own tree if they want," says Sturrock. He furnishes saws to buyers. People can reserve trees in advance and return to cut it with their family in tow. According to Sturrock, few places do that. This last year, Bob and his wife put out picnic tables so people could bring their lunch and make a day out of it. Lori Sturrock conducts preschool tours on fall mornings, leading children through the growth cycle of a pine tree and the care taken by the farm to produce a tree.

Tree customers have included the Pomona Valley Mining Co., Marshall Canyon County Golf Course, Sierra La Verne, Scripps College and Pomona College. They even get a few customers from as far as Victorville, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach. The majority of their customers come from Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne, Claremont and Pomona.

The Sturrock Christmas Tree Farm usually opens the weekend after Thanksgiving and then closes around Dec. 15.

Asked whether he gets a sense of gratification when he sees the children, Sturrock replies, "There's a sense of accomplishment more so than gratification, in that we started out with a bare piece of land that was river bottom, and we took that and made it into a tree farm."



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