Although this year has been a difficult one for businesses across the country, sales activity was better than ever for the family-run Gasseling Ranches Christmas Tree Farm in Wapato.

The 35-acre U-cut Christmas tree farm saw an increase in its business this year. In fact, while it intended to remain open until Dec. 20, the farm had to close Dec. 13 due to the number of trees sold.

The Gasseling family believes that the desire for a fun-filled experience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic drove many families to cut live trees from the farm this year.

“This year I think people do want to get out and try and do some things with their families, just because we’ve all been locked down for so long,” said Trishia Gasseling, who operates the farm with her husband, Patrick Gasseling.

The Gasselings first began planting Christmas trees in 2012. However, because the trees grow at a rate of only 1 foot per year, the family was unable to begin selling them until 2016.

“This is not a crop that you’re really going to turn over real quick,” Trishia Gasseling said. “It’s a huge investment.”

The family decided to take on that investment because they saw a need for a family-oriented winter activity in the Yakima Valley.

Gasseling Ranches Christmas Tree Farm opened Nov. 24. In addition to selling trees, the business offered tractor rides, an opportunity to see two live reindeer, bonfires, complimentary hot chocolate, and sales of hand-crafted wooden Christmas decorations. However, the business did not receive its typical visit from Santa in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Even so, families flocked to the Gasselings’ tree farm, hoping to rekindle a sense of joy in the midst of a year that has presented challenges for many.

As Patrick Gasseling observed, “What’s really enjoyable for me is seeing all the little kids come. And their eyes just light up. You can tell they really enjoy it.”

Trishia Gasseling has similar sentiments about the importance of family experiences during the holidays.

“We’re a very family-driven Valley,” she said. “This time is about family and trying to make sure that everybody is thankful for what they have.”

Trishia Gasseling says that when it comes to operating a Christmas tree business, tree management is of the utmost importance. Because of how slowly their products grow, it was imperative that not too many customers cut down trees this winter. Ensuring that trees will be readily available in the coming years is key in maintaining the longevity of their type of farm.

With this season’s earlier-than-anticipated closure behind them, the Gasseling family plans to continue its farming and selling Christmas trees in the coming winters. With the most recent holiday now just a few days behind us, many lots of young trees at the Wapato site now stand undisturbed, waiting to grow and be harvested by families of the Yakima Valley in the years to come.

• Natalie Keller is a sophomore at Selah High School.