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Getting ready for Christmastime ... in September

Even though Halloween decorations are still in stores, Christmas was on the minds of many this weekend.

Paul and Sherrill Schottler, owners of St. Croix Valley Trees in rural Somerset, played host to the 2008 Minnesota Christmas Tree Association summer convention on Sept. 12-13.

"This was the first time we had a combined meeting of Wisconsin and Minnesota tree growers," Sherrill Schottler said. "We had about 150 attendees and 20 vendors."

Schottler explained that the convention is hosted by a different grower each year. However, this year is the first time the summer convention took place closer to fall.

"They've (the organizers) had been asking us for several years to host, but it had always been in July," Schottler explained. "We wanted to set it all up as though it was the Christmas sales season; it takes two months just to set it up."

The convention was scheduled to take the attendees through the four seasons of growing Christmas trees. Friday morning was devoted to spring as they learned about seedling planting and Christmas tree pests.

The afternoon focused on summer activities such as shearing demonstrations, herbicides and irrigation systems. The evening capped off with dinner in the over 100-year-old barn and "for fun" tournaments.

Saturday it was back to business as they saw first-hand the complete operation of Christmas tree visitors coming to select a tree. The afternoon concluded with a session on "agritainment" - enriching the tree buying experience by giving the customer the best time of their lives.

"Most tree growers recognize that today's customer is often looking for more than 'just a tree,'" Schottler said. To that end, the attendees had a chance to explore the farm's straw tunnels, world's largest gumball machine, hand-crafted stone house, colored-sphere tree decorating and player piano with dancing dolls.

"Everything went smoothly, we received many compliments," Schottler concluded. "They said they were very impressed by seeing how planting and growing trees can be done more efficiently."