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Unusual Jobs: Carver Farms Christmas tree trimmers

Gunnar Merkel, of Liberty Lake, trims Christmas trees at Carver Farms near Newman Lake on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka)
Gunnar Merkel, of Liberty Lake, trims Christmas trees at Carver Farms near Newman Lake on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka)

Most people don’t think much about Christmas during the sunny and hot months of July and August.

But at Carver Farms in Newman Lake, Scott Carver and Gunnar Merkel are working on creating picture-perfect Christmas trees.

Each morning they put on their gear: Carhartt pants, leather arm chaps, a beekeepers’ helmet and in Merkel’s case, football pads and a backpack with a motor in it. The two work from 7 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, making their way through fields of trees.

Merkel has an 8-foot tall shearer and Carver follows him with 24-inch long-handled hand trimmers and a 32-inch-long knife.

Merkel will take a look at the tree and decide if it needs a lot of trimming or just a little. He walks around the tree with the shearer and Carver works as cleanup, clipping away any branches that are barely hanging on.

“He’ll work for an hour and a half shearing like that and I’ll work behind him,” Carver said. After that, the two will switch.

Carver said the trees generally grow in the shape of a Christmas tree, but the shearing sort of reminds the trees to keep their shape. Each tree will get sheared once a year over the seven to nine years it takes to grow. Each tree has its own personality and look, so they try not to shave too much off each tree.

Carver’s parents, Marv and Joanne, started the farm in 1977. Both schoolteachers, Scott Carver followed his parents into both teaching and farming. His wife, Tamryn, is also a schoolteacher and has a joke about the family business.

“Teaching supports our farming habit,” Scott Carver said.

Along with the trees, there are also tomatoes, peaches, corn and other farm favorites. Merkel, 17, works year-round, starting in with the pumpkins after they finish shaping the trees around the end of September.

“I’m not really a fast-food man,” Merkel said about why he decided to work at the farm. He took piano lessons from Carver’s wife and called him up when he was ready for a job about a year and a half ago.

“He’s my right-hand man,” Carver said.

There are seven varieties of trees growing on the farm: blue spruce and Fraser, grand, concolor, Nordmann, Trojan and Canaan firs. Typically, they plant 4,000 to 5,000 trees a year and they will grow about 1 to 2 feet a year. During their second year, workers prune the trees around the base, creating a handle and a place to saw the tree.

Carver said they planted their first field of trees in 2002 and began harvesting them five years later. During Christmas tree season, customers at Carver Farms take a hayride out to the field where they choose their tree and cut it down.

Carver again quotes his wife when he thinks about the trees going to someone’s home to be decorated and enjoyed for a month or so before are they are taken down and put on the street for recycling.

“They’re realizing their destiny,” Carver said.