A Christmas tradition for the troops

Hunter Tree Farm provides trees to military families

Devon McKenna/Photosynthesis Studio
Brooke Hunter, Janelle Tencza, Brenna Fillerup, Janine Simpson and Gordon Hunter.
Devon McKenna/Photosynthesis Studio
Devon McKenna/Photosynthesis Studio
Janelle Tencza, Brooke Hunter, Gordon Hunter, Janine Simpson and Brenna Fillerup.

For more than 20 years, the Hunter family has been a part of the Christmas holidays for thousands of families, providing the trees, wreaths and other festive trimmings from their family Christmas tree farm.

For owners Gordon and Brooke Hunter, and daughters, Brenna Fillerup,  Janine Simpson, Janelle Tencza and Meghann, the business model has always included giving back to the community which has given so much to them.

Ten years ago, Hunter’s Christmas Tree Farm became involved in the Troops for Trees program which has provided thousands of real Christmas trees to military members and their families. The public is encouraged to purchase a tree at the farm which will be delivered via FedEx to military families across Georgia in time for Christmas.

“We’ve always looked for ways to support the community,” said Brooke. “[The Trees for Troops] program has been heartwarming and a wonderful thing to be a part of for the past 10 years.”

Nationwide, the goal of the Trees for Troops program is to provide approximately 20,000 Christmas trees to military families across the country, and even overseas where troops are stationed.

Over the years, some families have come in to buy a tree for Trees for Troops, even if they are not buying one for themselves.

“That is so rewarding to see,” said Janine Simpson. “They come in each year and just want to be a part of the program because it’s so meaningful to them.”

While the Hunters differ on the exact year the business sold its first tree, 1989 or 1990, they all agree on one thing. For many families who return year after year, the Christmas season starts with a trip to the Hunter Christmas Tree Farm.

“What makes a trip here special is it’s a total experience,” said Gordon. “Kids can go on pony rides, hayrides, make ornaments, visit Santa and enjoy hot chocolate while they find their perfect tree.”

The Hunters bought the 25-acre property off Wood Road in Milton in 1984, with the intent to live the equestrian lifestyle like so many of their neighbors. But Brooke came across an article about Christmas tree farms, and a seed, literally, was planted.

“We had no experience ... none whatsoever,” laughed Gordon, a retired Delta pilot, who along with Brooke is originally from California. “We thought growing trees would be easier than horses ... no vet bills, no feed. So we cleared land and started planting [seedlings].”

Brooke and Gordon gained knowledge and sought advice from the Georgia Christmas Tree Association and the National Christmas Tree Association, attending meetings and visiting other farms to learn the business.

While the effort involved in growing trees versus horses is debatable, the Hunter family has successfully grown the Christmas tree farm from their first batch of seedlings on the five-acre plat, to more than 500 mature Christmas trees available each season.

Brooke said their daughters helped as much as they could in building the family business while attending Milton High School at the time, then off to college at Brigham Young University in Utah.

“They came home from college and helped out, knowing that the Christmas tree farm was helping to pay their tuition!” laughed Brooke.

Today, twin daughters Janine and Janelle now run the family business. Brenna, who lives in Colorado,  comes home around the holidays with her family to lend a hand. Meghann Gavin, the youngest, she and her family live in Johns Creek and they have become indispensable as the trainers and doers of the loading and tying down safely of each tree that dons the tops of the family cars leaving the farm. Meghann also helps with publicity, media and email contacts with our returning customers. Gordon and Brooke are fully retired and content to be advisers and ambassadors for the business they built.

The family enjoys its limited off time from about mid-December when the season’s batch of trees are sold, to February when the ordering and planting of new seedlings starts anew.

And with 15 grandchildren in the family, a pipeline is in place to keep Hunter's Christmas Tree Farm viable for generations.

“It was a lot of work [getting it started], but it’s been such a wonderful, happy business with family involved,” said Gordon. “There is always a happy ending at the holidays, and something you look forward to each year.” ■


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