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New roots for North Whidbey tree farm
It sometimes still feels a little surreal for Mike and Tricia Miller.
At sunrise some days, they’ll step outside with a cup of coffee in hand and can scan acres of farmland and gaze at a magnificent view of Crescent Harbor at the end of a downward slope.
It can be hard to believe sometimes that this is their property and their home.
“Every morning is a different view,” Tricia said.
Feelings of peace and serenity, however, also come with the occasional twinge of panic.
As in, a realization of what they got themselves into.
The home they bought in 2011 is surrounded by a forest of Christmas trees. For two years, they’ve been soaking up knowledge, moving earth, grooming land and preparing for a day that’s coming at the end of this month.
On Nov. 29, the Millers plan to re-open a tree farm that since the mid-1980s has been a place of fond holiday memories for many residents on North Whidbey.
Known for nearly three decades as WoodBee Christmas Tree Farm, the Millers are rekindling an old tradition with a new business name, Pacific Winds Farm.
The tree farm, located at 2870 Torpedo Road in Oak Harbor, was closed for business the past three holiday seasons.
“We didn’t even own a mower when we bought the place,” Tricia said. “We didn’t even have a push mower.”
Nor did they have much expertise on how to care for fir trees.
What they did possess, however, was a zest to learn, a zeal to overcome challenges and a dream to some day turn this farm into their living heading into their retirement years.
Both are 42 and in Oak Harbor because of the Navy.
Mike, from Chicago, is active duty after 24 years and is a maintenance master chief at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Tricia, who grew up on a farm in Kentucky, spent four years in the Navy.
Setting roots on Whidbey Island only seemed fitting.
It’s their third time back living on Whidbey since meeting in Hawaii in 1997 and each time a major life event took place.
After getting married on the old Morris Farm in Coupeville in 1998, the Millers took up residency in Maine, Japan and California.
But as it turned out, both of their sons, Noah, now 13, and Liam, 9, were born during their stays on Whidbey at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, delivered by the same doctor.
“We asked them, ‘When you think of where home is, what’s home?’” Tricia said. “They said, ‘Whidbey.’”
“We got married here, we had both of our kids here,” Mike said. “We considered Whidbey home. We always wanted to move back here.”
And when they noticed a newer home on 15 acres for sale on familiar property in 2011, they were intrigued.
“What’s funny about it is we used to bring our kids here,” Mike said.
The Millers bought the property, and in a separate purchase a year later, purchased 10 additional acres adjacent to their land that included the bulk of the tree farm and the business. With that additional land came a forest of trees, a tree shaker, outbuildings and the same red sleigh in which his kids sat in when they were younger.
The Millers are the third owner of the tree farm. Chuck and Gail Jaeger started the business in 1984 and ran the tree farm until 2005 when it was sold to Dave Grace. They still live on the land next to the Millers and have watched their progress in getting the business back up and running.
Ironically, the farm rests on the original donation land claim awarded to early Oak Harbor pioneer Caleb Miller in the 19th century. There’s no relation.
“We’re very excited,” Gail Jaeger said of the tree farm’s new owners. “They are a young energetic couple. They’ve got a couple of nice little boys. Actually, they’re about the same age we were when we finally opened.”
The work hasn’t been easy for the Millers.
There was an aphid infestation that led to a mass removal of trees, and weeds that needed to be hand- pulled on hundreds of trees so tree bases wouldn’t be nicked by metal blades or plastic chords of cutting equipment.
But the farm has taken shape, with help from a conservation group, tree farm association, hired tree trimmers and a lot of hard work by the Millers.
“They’ve done a fantastic job preparing to re-open the farm,” Chuck Jaeger said. “The quality of trees I’ve seen look the best I’ve seen since we owned it. It makes us happy knowing it’s going to be brought back.”