Since about 1997, the Bienieks have cut and hauled from their Akeley farm\
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Vic and Bonnie Bieniek give to their church, First Lutheran in Little Falls, in a big way. For the past 15 years or so, they have donated a Balsam Christmas tree to the sanctuary for the holiday season.
The tree was planted in 1983. It was cut and loaded onto an 18-foot snowmobile trailer by several people. The tree hung over the end of the trailer and needed a red flag for safety.
The Bienieks dropped it off at the church where members placed it on a tarp and dragged it into the church. It was erected and with very tall ladders, decorated for the season.
“We always felt it was the right thing to do for our church. The trees are a visual thank you to First Lutheran,” said Vic. “It is something everyone can appreciate.”
Vic, who was raised on a farm, said he and Bonnie started their 20-acre tree farm near Akeley when their children were small.
Bonnie said it was their plan was to have the income help with college for their children.
“It was great for the kids to be part of a family project,” said Vic. “It was hard work then, but we all look back on it now as being a lot fun. It gave us a sense of family.”
Each year the Bienieks, now retired school teachers from the Pierz District, and their children would plant hundreds of trees. They traveled to their tree farm almost every week in the summer to plant, fertilize and shear, or shape, the trees. The shearing continued until the tree was too big to work with.
Later in the year, the trees which were ready for Christmas decorations, on average about 10 years old, were cut and hauled to the Bienieks’ home in Little Falls and sold.
“We also donated trees to other churches when asked,” said Vic.
As the kids grew, Vic and Bonnie’s trips to Akeley became less and less. They now just go in the spring and fall when they continue to plant, but not nearly on the scale they did when their children were at home to help.
They still shape the trees, but only once or twice a year now and just the ones they will use themselves. That continues until the trees are too large to work with.
The trees they don’t use will be sold for timber in the future.
“The work got to be too much for just us,” said Bonnie. She said it is more part-time now.
Preparing trees to be Christmas trees takes a lot of work. Droughts are a big problem, especially for trees 1 – 3 years old, the couple said.
“The trees’ root systems are shallow when they are young,” said Vic. “In an average year, 40 percent of the crop is good for harvesting.”
Other periodic problems encountered by the Bienieks would be heavy snow breaking limbs and gophers eating roots.
In spite of the work, the droughts, the snow and the gophers, the Bienieks said they will continue to donate a Christmas tree to First Lutheran for years to come.