Neil (right) and Deb Krueger (center) at their family Christmas tree farm in Lake Elmo on Thursday, February 1, 2024. Along with his son John. The couple, along with their son John, recently signed a conservation easement. Minnesota Land Trust on 36 acres of the 46-acre farm. Kruger’s Christmas That portion of his tree farm currently has permanent restrictions on development and will remain forever as open space. (John Oti/Pioneer Press)
Neil and Deb Krueger’s love for the land is evident each spring when it comes time to spray for aphids.
Instead of pesticides, the owners of Kruger’s Christmas Tree Farm in Lake Elmo use a homemade mixture of peppermint Castile soap and neem oil to get rid of pesky bugs.
“We are not certified organic, but our goal is to become organic one day,” said Neil Krueger, whose parents started growing Christmas trees in 1954. “We use a lot of alternative methods like mulching, mowing and cover crops to minimize herbicide use.” “
The Kruegers have been committed to sustainable farming since taking over the farm from Neil Krueger’s parents 30 years ago. Now, thanks to an agreement with the Minnesota Land Trust, the land will be preserved forever.
The couple, along with their son John, recently completed a conservation easement on 36 acres of their 46-acre farm. This means that portions of the farm will be permanently restricted from development and will remain open space.
“We’re trying to do our part in our little neck of the woods,” Neil Krueger said.
John Kruger says: “We have a family connection to this land, which makes it all the more important to keep it an open space. It will be.”
While the Kruegers have been committed to environmentally responsible practices and priorities for decades, this conservation easement “ensures that future generations of the community will be able to protect the farm’s visual, natural, wildlife, and watershed features. It means that you will continue to benefit from the trait forever,” said Deb Krueger.
minnesota land trust
The Minnesota Land Trust is dedicated to protecting grasslands, forests, bluffs, wetlands, and other habitats and native plant communities for wildlife, fish, and other species. We also focus on lakes, rivers, streams, and scenic landscapes, especially those that are important to local communities.
The organization has helped conserve approximately 80,000 acres of land across Minnesota.
Kruger Tree Farm’s conservation easement covers farmland, grasslands, woodlands, wetlands and ponds, said Wayne Ostry, the organization’s land conservation director.
“The value of agriculture and open space, as well as habitat protection, is very important to local communities,” Ostley said.
All conservation easements held by the Minnesota Land Trust are perpetual and apply to current owners and all future landowners, Ostry said.
The Kruger’s Christmas Tree Farm conservation easement will allow for future agricultural operations such as growing trees, producing hay, growing fruit, berries, and other specialty crops. It also allows for “protection of natural habitats,” Ostley said. “The natural part will always remain natural.”
Ostley, who lives in nearby Stillwater, said she knows how much Krueger’s Christmas Tree Farm means to the area and “how it’s a really important community centerpiece, especially during the holiday season.” He said he is doing so.
“This is just the foundation of why Lake Elmo is such a special place to live,” Ostry said. “In that sense, this is really a community center. We have an opportunity to protect open space that actually serves the community in a variety of ways.”
The Kruegers contributed both the value of the easement and associated project costs, as well as funding for the long-term management and enforcement of the easement. “This is an incredibly generous gift that will benefit generations to come,” Ostley said.
“It is noteworthy that the Kruegers take a long-term view to protecting this area resource while personally funding the conservation easement,” Ostley said. “You don’t see that very often, but this multi-generational family effort is just that.”
A 10-year crop with environmental benefits
Neil Kruger’s paternal grandparents, Fred and Augusta Kruger, arrived at Lake Elmo in the 1890s. “They came by oxcart from Indiana because they heard the air was better for allergies,” he said. “They settled half a mile east of this farm and spent the first year or so in a dirt shack. Their first priority was to build a barn, so they built a barn in front of the house. . They were dairy farmers.”
Deb Krueger is a descendant of the Bronson family, which was known for its involvement in the lumber industry in the St. Croix River Valley from the late 1800s to the 1930s, she said. “During that logging period, the hills along the river were not reforested and the timber quickly ran out,” she said. “We are now putting these tiny seedlings back into the soil in the best sustainable way possible.”
Neil Kruger’s parents, Al and Elaine Krueger, started a Christmas tree business in 1954 on a 100-acre farm in Baytown Township. Deb and Neil Krueger purchased his grandparents’ 30-acre farm in Lake Elmo in 1983 and began planting trees on the property. They opened Kruger’s Christmas Tree Farm in his 1993. Neil is 75 years old and Deb is 72 years old. His 46-year-old son John, who lives in Mahtomedi, is now the majority owner.
The farm sells a variety of trees, including balsam fir, Canaan fir, Fraser fir, Korean fir, Siberian fir, white pine, Norway pine, and Scotch pine. It takes about 10 years for one tree to grow.
“If you think about a farm, it’s usually a three-month operation, but with a Christmas tree, it takes 10 years for the tree to grow, and during that time there are so many environmental benefits for birds, animals and humans. There is. The land, the soil, all kinds of things that go into it,” Deb Krueger said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to protect the land and teach others what they can do with their land to help bees and birds and everything else. ”
The Krugers often invite local school groups on field trips to the farm. Students tour the work site and learn about “what lies beneath the soil, what lives there, and how important it is for everyone to work together on a tree farm.” said Deb Krueger.
Healthy soil is the key to a healthy tree farm. The Kruegers are grinding up tree stumps in the field “so they can decompose into the ground,” Deb Krueger said. “This process traps soil organisms and helps keep the entire ecosystem in place.”
Deb Krueger said every decision made on the farm is made with the next generation of farmers in mind. The couple have four grandchildren. Logan Schilling (22 years old). Maya Schilling, 19 years old. Evelyn Kruger, 11 years old. and Ben Kruger, 9 years old.
“We are slowly learning that there are places that need to be protected and protected from infringement,” she said. “For the future of our children, we need to support them.”
Lake Elmo is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, and the Kruegers are excited to see the energy and vibrancy that all the new families and businesses moving to the area bring to the community. He says he is.
But the building boom has made it clear why conservation easements on this land are so important, Neil Krueger said.
“We have a love of the outdoors, and we want to preserve that for future generations,” says Roberts, who took early retirement from Andersen in Bayport in 2003 and began trekking 3,100 miles on the Continental Divide Trail. said Neil Krueger. His journey took him 188 days of hiking and cycling over eight years, in stages, both alone and with his friends.
Conservation easements are one of the few tools landowners have to permanently protect their land, Neil Krueger said.
“Most landowners choose the highest amount,” he says. “We have to get to the point where we value land, open space and nature more than dollars, because nature gives us so much.”