Merrywood Farm, located east of Canby on South Casto Road, is a must-visit for many area residents every holiday season. But at first blush, its business model appears pretty straightforward: They grow and sell a variety of pre-cut and u-cut Christmas trees.
Well, if that’s what you think, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.
“Our motto here, is ‘We grow memories,'” explains Merrywood owner and founder William Keyser.
The memories, of course, are free, which does seem like an odd business model. But it works for William and his wife, Susan, who started Merrywood three decades ago.
“We opened 30 years ago, you know,” William says. “So, kids who used to come here for pony rides and trees are now all grown up and bringing their own kids. We love to see that.”
Whereas many area tree farms focus on the two most common Christmas tree species — noble fir and Douglas fir — Merrywood boasts an astonishing variety of species and sizes (in William’s words, from “tabletop” up to 20 feet or more).
“When we first started, we were selling Douglas fir; that’s what I had,” Williams explains. “And the first people who drove up the driveway wanted a noble fir. So after that, I started planting noble fir — and every other variety I could think of. I try to please everybody.”
With a laugh, he adds, “Sometimes, that’s hard to do.”
In Merrywood’s fields this season, you can find standard and “alpine” noble (a more natural-looking variant), Douglas fir, grand fir, sequoia and two kinds of Nordmann fir — a low-maintenance, odorless tree that is fast-growing in popularity.
“They don’t smell, so they don’t attract bugs and other stuff,” William explains. “And that can be better for people with allergies. They don’t shed needles, and they last a long time. You can put those in your house now and don’t have to worry about them till Valentine’s Day.”
William Keyser grew up in Canby, in the house that today serves as the home of Canby Music. As a young boy, he loved planting seeds and watching them grow into trees — so it’s little wonder that eventually became his full-time job.
In 1985, William and Susan were looking for a farmstead large enough to accommodate a tree farm and their two daughters’ passion for raising horses. They sold their home in hope of purchasing a property from the estate of a woman named Mary Wood, but were unexpectedly outbid.
Now, in a bind — “We were pretty much homeless by the end of the year,” William recalls — the Keyser stumbled across the Casto Road property, which happened to be right next door to William’s grandmother. They christened their new farm “Merrywood” — in honor of the owner of the property they didn’t buy.
Little did they know, his grandmother and her brothers and sisters had actually been born on the property that the Keysers had just purchased. The original house (which later burned) and barn buildings (which are still standing) were built by William’s great-grandfather, German immigrant F.P. Heilman, in 1907.
When Heilman died in 1907, the family lost the farm and it became a painful memory. But when William and Susan brought the good news that the property was coming back to the family after more than 50 years, she showered them with pictures and stories of the old homestead.
Many of those pictures are on display today, along with vintage equipment, signs and other artifacts, in a farm museum that now occupies much of the old barn. In the neighboring barn building is the famous Merrywood diorama scene, which William takes great pleasure in crafting anew each year.
This year’s display features a tribute to “The Singing Cowboy” himself, Gene Autry, Santa and Mrs. Claus at work in their shop, and a pioneer-era nature scene with animals, dug-out canoe and an authentic covered wagon.
Merrywood Farm is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Mondays 1 to 4:30, and is located at 12328 South Casto Road. Weekend hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit merrywoodfarm.com.
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