FORTVILLE — It’s been a plan seven years in the making that started with hundreds of saplings and required countless hours of hard work, a lot of patience and a little prayer.

But now Sambol’s Tree Farm, located just north of Greenfield, is finally open for business after nearly a decade, and its owners are welcoming customers onto the property for the first time this holiday season.

Lance Sambol of McCordsville purchased the 18 acres of land on which his tree farm now sits in 2009. Every year since, he’s put thousands of evergreens into the ground, nurtured them and watched them grow.

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Now, the first batch of fir trees and spruce trees are the perfect size to be cut down and placed in living rooms across Hancock County. Lance and his wife, Susan, are ready to open the place up for families to come and enjoy, they said.

“We want offer people a great experience,” Susan Sambol said. “We want to be a place where families can come to build traditions.”

Lance Sambol was a businessman before he made the switch to become a farmer.

He owned a golf course and driving range in McCordsville for years before the struggling economy forced him to shut his doors in 2007.

He loved every bit of that business, he said. The sport, the people — it was all wonderful. But he constantly felt tied down by the course in a way he never wanted to be, often working from dusk to dawn to keep the place running.

In this second life he was granted, he wanted to do something different. Something that would bring joy to others while giving him the chance to come and go as he pleased, caring for his family at the same time as the trees, bringing him some sense of freedom, he said.

On little more than a whim, he decided to purchase an overgrown former cornfield located along North State Road 9 in Greenfield near its intersection with State Road 234.

He dreamed it would one day be a place where families could come and make memories while cutting down their own Christmas tree. He hoped the sounds of the cars buzzing down State Road 9 would soon be drowned out by laughter.

He spent the first year or so clearing weeds and brush out of the field. He planted the first 1,000 trees not long after.

The next year he planted 1,000 more trees and added another 1,000 the year after that. He continued the pattern until evergreens dotted the whole property.

Between the daily weeding and watering, he waited. And waited. And waited.

Every day for seven years, the Sambols tended to the trees. With every new spring, they planted more saplings, and the trees grew around them at an average of 1 foot per year, he said.

That stair-step method of planting ensures the farm will have trees to sell for decades to come, he said.

At the same time, it ensures the farm will forever be a place where families can come to make holiday memories and experience the great joy their family has already found in owning the tree farm, said Susan Sambol.

When the first set of saplings went into the ground, the couple’s daughter, Erin, was just 1 year old. It’s been funny to watch the trees grow alongside the little girl, who is now 8 years old. At first the child towered over the little shrubs; now many of the trees have met or exceeded her height.

Erin thinks of the trees in way some people think of their children, Susan Sambol said — blink, and they’re all grown.

“We’ve got babies, we’ve got toddlers, we’ve got teens,” she said with a laugh. “That’s how she thinks about it.”

Now, they are ready for the place to be filled with other families. They hope mothers and fathers will come to walk the fields with their children to find the perfect pine to take home and decorate.

Those will surely be the most rewarding moments, Lance Sambol said: to image a family huddled around one of his trees on Christmas morning.

That will make all those years of hard work worth it, he said.

“We took it from a cornfield to this,” he said, looking out over the property with pride. “Every tree, every thing that’s here has been added by us.”

Other county tree farms

Sambol’s Tree Farm is the fifth Christmas tree farm to open its gates in Hancock County. Here is information about each:

Brawner’s Greenhouse and Christmas Tree Farm

1015 E. Broadway St., Fortville

Phone: 317-485-5853

Hillcrest Tree Farm

4420 E. County Road 500S, Greenfield

Phone: 317-462-7694

Lost Forty Tree Farm

4499 N. County Road 400E, Greenfield

Phone: 317-326-4670

Piney Acres Christmas Tree Farm

1115 E. County Road 1000N, Fortville

Phone: 317-326-1700

Sambol’s Tree Farm

7783 N. State Road 9, Fortville

Phone: 317-850-0135

About Sambol's

Sambol’s Tree Farm is owned and operated by Lance and Susan Sambol of McCordsville.

Trees the couple began planting in 2009 are now mature enough to be Christmas trees, and the couple is opening its farm to the public for the first time this year with several types of evergreen trees available for purchase, including Canaan fir, concolor fir, Norway spruce and Black Hills spruce.

In addition to trees, Sambol’s Tree Farm sells fresh handmade wreaths and other Christmas decorations.

The farm, located at 7783 N. State Road 9, Fortville, is open to the public from 3 p.m. to sundown Tuesdays through Fridays; from 10 a.m. to sundown Saturdays; and from 11 a.m. to sundown Sundays.

The farm will close for the season Dec. 18.

Fun facts

– Approximately 25 million fresh-cut Christmas trees are sold in the United States every year.

– There are more than 350 million Christmas trees currently growing at farms in all 50 states.

– It can take 4 to 15 years for a tree to reach 7 feet, the typical Christmas tree height. On average, trees grow about a foot a year, meaning most reach 7 feet after 7 years.

– The top Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington.

– The most common Christmas tree species are balsam fir, douglas fir, fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine.

Source: National Christmas Tree Association 

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.