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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Canadian Business Rooted in the Land

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 21 November 2000 00:00

Now that Thanksgiving and Halloween are over and done with, aggressive yuletide advertising is forcing Canadians to "think Christmas." However, one Ontario family welcomes the onset of Christmas festivities, in fact, they have put their real estate to work in the name of Christmas.

The Hortons have invested decades of effort in growing trees to help fellow Canadians celebrate Christmas.

The Horton family farm is one of the first Christmas tree farms in Ontario and Hal Horton expects Horton Tree Farms to be in the cut-your-own-tree business for years to come. The Hortons estimate that over 1,200,000 children and families have already visited their 6 farms and 400 acres of trees.

With his two younger brothers, Brian and Bert, Mr. Horton has built a flourishing tree farming business, which they hope will successfully finance their retirement.

"What started out as selling Christmas trees for six days in December, we turned into a corporation for selling trees that would support three young families," said Mr. Horton, who studied recreation facility management and land use planning before returning to the family farm to team up with his brothers.

"The initial idea was to acquire land at a reasonable price and crop the land for one rotation, which is almost 20 years. The first crop does not come in for 8 years and you're not out of the red ‘til year 10. This had to be an investment of time and money and we had to meet obligations ‘til then."

Now they are approaching the end of the twenty-year cycle they started in 1979.

Mr. Horton sums up their progress this way: "The land is appreciating and, after giving ourselves a modest income, there have been modest returns over the last 10 years from some of the first plantings. The land is for the most part paid for. We have kept anywhere from 8 to 30 part-time employees and 4 to 5 full-time employees -- that has been gratifying. The end results of the last planting are being realized now and for the next 5 years, but this is a winding-down process. So the long-term view is we must find something else to do, go into semi - retirement or retire."

Mr. Horton estimates that selling the farms they don't live on should give the brothers a reasonable investment income, which will eventually be supplemented by inheritances from their parents.

"What makes it easier is that our housing has been on the farm," said Mr. Horton, explaining that each brother has a separate house on the 30-acre family farm north of Toronto, which their parents bought in 1961.

"We just pay taxes, upkeep and maintenance and that is a bonus that came with the original farm."

This "have your home and money too" enterprise is a variety of home-based business repeated with variations in tree farms across Canada.

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