I contacted Bridging the Gap about its annual Red Cedar event because I loved the idea that a freshly cut cedar tree for Christmas contributed to local conservation efforts. But what I found at Mildale Farm on Saturday afternoon was much more than a day of conservation. Although the day was cloudy, the weather was perfect. It was just chilly enough to feel like December and to huddle around the bonfire to enjoy the free s’mores and hot chocolate.
After parking your car and signing in you could hitch a ride on the tractor or walk out to the field to find and cut-down your perfect Christmas tree. There were plenty of volunteers scattered about to help. There was no tree to small (or too large in some cases). I visited with a few of the families that had been coming to the event to select their Christmas tree for several years. They started coming when there children were young and now the annual visit to Mildale Farm is how they start their Christmas holiday. The smallest of Christmas tree hunters could not even walk yet….but he was grinning and enjoying the holiday cheer. In a few years he will be one of the little boys running through the field. I even spotted a few young couples, maybe just married or on a Christmas tree date. The scene reminded me of reading the Little House on the Prairie Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The girls were bundled into the sled and they would go out to select their Christmas tree. It seems to me is that this is how Christmas should begin. The focus on family, tradition, and connecting with nature by selecting your tree and bringing it back to your home to be part of the holiday experience. The day was certainly wrapped in joyful Christmas feelings.
Mildale Farm is in Edgerton, Kansas (Johnson County) just outside of Kansas City. The Farm is 22 acres of rolling hills, ponds and wooded areas full of red cedar trees. The location holds several events throughout the year so that the public can enjoy this beautiful green space in Johnson County.
Right now the main use of the farm is private and it is available to rent for events, including weddings. Here’s a challenge for a 2017 December bride and groom. If you are conservation minded and want to think out of the box, think about making a difference as you celebrate your vows. How about a red cedar tree christmas wedding. As part of the reception and celebration guests could cut down their own christmas tree for the holidays.
Eastern red cedar smells wonderful but these trees are somewhat of a nuisance in many states, including Kansas. The odd thing about red cedar is that it is one of the few invasive species that is actually a native plant. The red cedar is actually the only native evergreen tree in Kansas. The cedar tree does have uses other than providing annual Christmas cheer. The cedar tree, if planted in a single row, can provide excellent wind barrier protection and will also provide shade for livestock. The tree is also an ecologist of sorts. It is a species that can spread and grow into areas with poor and eroded soil. Once it puts down roots and provides shade this can held stop the erosion. In addition, the cedar trees can provide a good habitat for some small wildlife, however they are a threat to prairie areas and grasslands. As the cedar trees spread they limit the grasslands for grazing wildlife and livestock and negatively impact many small prairie birds and species. Simply put the quickly spreading red cedar trees alter the prairie ecosystem. Like many conservation issues, the red cedar did not become an invasive species until the area was settled. Prior to settlement the spreading red cedars were controlled by the natural occurring fires and all the roaming bison. Human presence altered the natural occurring cycles of the prairie lands.
If you live outside the city limits, you can start your own annual red cedar Christmas tree tradition by cutting a red cedar tree in your own backyard. If you are a city dweller, skip the purchase of your Christmas tree at the local store. Mark your calendars for the first Saturday of December in 2017 (Saturday December 2, 2017) so that you can share in this experience and start your Christmas tree tradition for conservation.
After Christmas, continue with good conservation and please recycle your Christmas tree. After removing all the lights, tinsel and ornaments, here are some suggestions.
As a side note, there is good news for nature enthusiasts, Johnson County has designated Mildale Farm and the surrounding area for a future park site, including perhaps another dog park. I am looking forward to finding out more about this development and will be sure to share any additional information.