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Cut-your-own Christmas tree at Manteca farm
Sam Minturn checks on one of his 300 Christmas trees that people can select from and cut down to take home from his farm just a mile north of Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO
It was his love for Christmas that got Sam Minturn interested in starting his own Christmas tree farm.

The retired teacher that had spent time traveling and had seen the pine tree farms that allowed customers to cut down the tree that they’d like to place in their living room, Minturn realized that starting one of his own would allow him to have his own farming business. It also meant managing one that catered to his love of the annual holiday that was near and dear to his heart.

So after securing the piece of property along Highway 99’s East Frontage Road between Lathrop and French Camp roads, Minturn began planting the young seedlings in 1983. He waited patiently until they grew into mature trees that would soon grace the living rooms of South County residents.

But it takes a lot more than just placing miniature seedlings in the ground in order to fully establish a farm that could produce the trees that customers are in the market to purchase. The work required for such a feat was much more than just watching them grow.

“When you’ve got temperatures in July that top 100 degrees then you have to make sure that your investment will survive,” Minturn said. “When you start it takes three or four years until you have mature trees and in that time you don’t have any income.

“Making sure those trees that could be sold stay alive becomes even more important.”

The majority of mom-and-pop lots in the area turn to massive tree farms in places like Oregon and Washington in order to secure popular styles like the Noble Fir – the best-selling tree in the area that requires a coastal-like climate in order to grow naturally.

Without the coastal fog or moisture to raise such styles, Minturn relied on a handful of other species that both closely resemble the popular styles found at most lots that receive precut trees – opting instead for the Monterey Pine as the bushy style and the Nordmann Fir as an alternative to the Noble Fir.

“In my opinion the Nordmann is better than the Noble and it has a lot of the same benefits that customers enjoy like the thick branches that allow for heavy ornaments to be placed on them.

“They’re beautiful trees, and we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of return customers that appreciate what it is that we’re doing here.”

With about 300 trees on the parcel for customers to choose from, finding that perfect tree – something that Minturn and his staffers help along by pruning the trees before they get too bushy and unkempt – often doesn’t take customers long.

And at the end of the day it’s seeing a family with children light up when they find something that they’re happy to place in their home that keeps him going with the unique endeavor.

“There used to be a lot more places like this where you can cut down your own tree,” he said. “Seeing a family find one that they like and that they can take the pride in cutting down themselves is really what puts a smile on my face.

“This is all about Christmas, a holiday that centers around family, and to see them enjoy themselves with this process is like an early Christmas present for me.”

To get to Manteca Forest take Highway 99 north and get off at the Lathrop Road exit. Turn right at the top of the overpass, and then turn left on E. Frontage Road. The entrance to the lot is roughly one mile up on the left hand side. For more information call 835-8911.