Yeager’s Farm and Market Reigns as a Christmas Tree Institution
A look inside the multi-generational, 120-acre Phoenixville-area business.
Jeff Yeager and his grandfather, John, on the family’s Chester County Christmas-tree farm//Photos by Tessa Marie Images
Jeff Yeager still takes pride in his simple family title of “youngest child.” Growing up, his older brothers, John and Joe, were kicking up dust on baseball fields for Phoenixville Area High School while he was left in the dust on the farm.
Today, all three are seventh-generation farmers on a property that’s been in the family since the days of William Penn. It was once a dairy farm, until profit margins plummeted. Their grandfather, John, began investing in Christmas trees, initially selling them pre-cut in 1990 at the family’s Route 113 retail outlet and out of a lean-to on the Chester County farm. By the late ’90s, the family had built an all-purpose market building. The location is halfway between Chester Springs and Kimberton.
Four John Yeagers currently live on the farm, and four generations call it home—and everyone lends a hand. Jeff also works full time for American Airlines at the Philadelphia International Airport. “It’s a great job,” he says. “I can fly for nothing—not that there’s any time to fly anywhere.”
Christmas, of course, is the busiest season, when family friends pitch in. There are 45,000 trees—mostly Douglas and Fraser firs—spread across 120 acres. “We’re like a little hole in the doughnut of new housing subdivisions,” says Jeff. “We all know there are so few farms left, and you can never get the land back.”
In their own way, the Yeagers tout themselves as environmentally friendly. They say cutting down a live tree is good because it’s replaced with another, all while preserving open space. “We cut down less than we plant in an average year,” says Jeff.
Their holiday season can sometimes be tough, mostly due to weather. Customers love snow, but the family would rather it hold off until Christmas Eve, when the work is done. “It’s nice to cut a tree in the snow—one tree,” says Sue Yeager, Jeff’s mom. “But for us, all day, it’s a mess. The guys come in saturated. The equipment is sliding. It’s messy. But we’re always in a good mood. There’s just a spirit here.”
In the café of Yeager’s Farm & Market, there are complimentary cookies, hot cider and cocoa near a handmade-wreath station, plus gift items. Sue won’t work on Christmas Eve, but her husband, John, will put in a 9 a.m.-to-1 p.m. day for last-minute shoppers. December is a hectic month, requiring 11-hour days. “What it brings in keeps the farm going,” Sue says.
John Yeager works the farm.
In January, the family catches its breath, cuts down stumps, and services machinery. By February and March, it’s time to prune fruit trees. Between March and April, and even into mid-May, they’re planting a delivery of 8,000 three-year-old Christmas trees. “It’s backbreaking,” admits Jeff. “It’s all hands on deck.”
Concurrently, landscaping services—grass seed, straw, bedding plants—have begun, and in late April, the sweet-corn and soybean fields need attention. By the end of May, it’s time to make the first cutting of hay, most of which is sold to horse farmers. If wet, it’s silage for their beef cows—40 heads of Black and Red Angus that the family butchers for itself.
In the heat of summer, the family starts picking corn and has a huge garden to tend and sell at the market. In the Christmas-tree world, July—and even the months beyond—is for shearing, giving each a triangular shape, and removing buds so a strong leader dominates. Everyone shears—even grandfather John, who’s 82. “It’s a farm, and things are always happening,” says Jeff.
Yeager’s is truly a family business, with over 20 members involved on a daily basis and 30-40 friends pitching in. The rest of the year, four to six non-family workers help make the farm run smoothly.
Jeff’s grandparents, John and ZoAnne, had seven children, and led a meager lifestyle—one that’s still meager, he says. But what’s special is how attached the family has become to its land, which doesn’t go unnoticed.
Sally and Lou Schmukler moved to Malvern seven years ago, put in a landscape order with Yeager’s for 25 pine trees, and have added lots of landscaping since. The couple has used Yeager’s to redo all of the builder’s work. “When I buy a tree, it’s like adopting a child,” says Sally, adding, “I lost my keys at Yeager’s once, and three guys walked the farm until they found them.”
The Yeagers do celebrate their own Christmas, beginning with church on Dec. 24. The next day, there’s lunch at father John’s sister’s home, then dinner with Sue’s side of the family in Royersford.
“Our parents always gave us options,” says Jeff. “They didn’t say, ‘You have to stay home and take over the farm.’ But we became attached, and we have no intention of ever selling it. It’s too sentimental. It’s been good to us.”