Irene and Bob McKinley have been married for "about 60 years" and have been growing Christmas trees together on their Marion Road farm for nearly as long.
In business for at least half a century, (Irene, 85, says she forgets specific dates) Bob McKinley's Christmas Tree Farm has been a destination for generations of Cheshire families in search of the perfect holiday evergreen.
Irene said when the pair started their business, they were among Connecticut's first Christmas tree farmers. They were part of close-knit group of Connecticut tree growers who often got together to trade tips and share ideas, she remembered.
"We took turns going to each other's farms and learning. It was nice," Irene recalled. "There were only about a dozen when we first started and there's a few hundred now."
Irene said Bob, 86, was a builder by trade but the couple dabbled with growing flowers and vegetables out of greenhouses on their property. When a friend suggested they grow Christmas trees, the couple thought it sounded like fun and decided to try.
"We've experimented with just about every tree there was on the market to see which ones would be the best to grow," Irene said. Today, the farm grows several varieties of trees including White Spruce, Blue Spruce, White Pine, Douglas Fir, Frasier Fir, Concolor Fir and Nordman Fir.
Although she said family members have taken over much of the work in recent years, Irene can still be found at the farm on weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, greeting customers and answering questions.
"We have a lot of customers who came with their parents when they were kids and now they are bringing their own families," Irene said. "I enjoy doing it because the people are so friendly."
McKinley provides families with a saw and free coffee for adults and hot cocoa and candy canes for the kids. The farm’s signature giant snowman, which Bob crafted out of Styrofoam blocks, makes a perfect photo backdrop.
Trees are $45 including tax. The farm also sells a limited inventory of wreaths and greenery.
The farm, located at 1415 Marion Road, will be open the day after Thanksgiving and weekends through Dec. 20, weather permitting, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 203-272-4772.