As DeSoto County Coroner, Josh Pounders has to regularly deal with death and the end of life.
But away from the examination table, Pounders can rather put his attentions to growing life, growing values, and making the Christmas season be a special one for youngsters and their families.
On land Pounders’ great-grandfather Willie Pounders purchased in the 1930s, Josh and his 11-year-old son Jake, a fifth-grader at Magnolia Heights School, operate Pine Ridge Christmas Tree Farm along Fogg Road in Nesbit.
Pounders started growing trees, the majority of which are Leland cypress trees, not as a money-making operation, he said. Rather, Pounders was intent on growing more than trees. He wanted to grow a solid future for his son.
“I wanted to do something that I could teach my son some responsibility, work a hands-on type of work, and how to build something from nothing and be proud of the work that you put into it,” said Pounders. “I planted those trees to teach my son the value of working for the things that he wants in life.”
Jake was only four years old when Pounders started planting trees on the land surrounding a home he built on the property in 2012. The first 350 trees were set out early the next year, “and we basically planted a field each year for 4-5 years before we ever cut our first tree,” Pounders pointed out.
As Jake has grown, Josh has given him responsibility for some of the care of the trees as they grow during the year.
“I give him jobs that he can do and jobs that he can handle,” Pounders said. “He helps me set out the trees and he helps me through the year to stake out and trim the trees.”
Pounders’ coroner duties restrict the time he has available to the tree farm, so he’ll have 4-5 teenagers come in after school to do some of the work needed, duties required to be done in one day that other operations may take much of a week to accomplish. Pounders noted that he’s actually trying to scale back the operation some because of the other responsibilities he has in his elected position with DeSoto County.
One thing Pounders has learned with the tree farm, and something he wants Jake to learn, is that the things you want in life don’t always come quick and easy.
“When you buy a real tree from a Christmas tree farm, there is no way to tell you how much work has gone into that Christmas tree,” Pounders explained. “For five years, somebody has been fertilizing that tree, they’ve been trying to keep that tree growing straight, and keeping the bugs off that tree. I enjoy doing that for people and giving the kids the opportunity to experience something real. We have so much that’s quick and fake and cheap in this world. You don’t learn that with Christmas trees because they are work.”
Pounders learned the Christmas tree business through research and visiting other farms to discover how they operate and what they did to keep their trees growing and staying healthy.
“All of the tree farmers in other states and here locally have been very supportive and helpful,” Pounders said. “I don’t want to be a competitor with the other farms in the area. We have three other farms in the area and they’re all friends of mine.”
The year-long process of Christmas tree growth requires constant care and many early mornings.
“Once the trees are about two-and-a-half years old, I have to start trimming the trees during the summer and that’s a big job,” Pounders explained. “We do that in July and August by hand. I’ll get up before daylight and work two hours trimming trees, then go to work and do what I need to do for the day.”
For Jake’s involvement in the farm, Pounders said there’s some money for his pocket but also money for his future.
“Jake gets paid a little bit when he helps and he has learned to save part of his money and spends part of his money on things that he wants,” Pounders said. “A little bit of money left over after we sell a few trees I will put away towards his college account.”
Both Josh and Jake say they enjoy meeting people and seeing their faces light up when they come to pick out their tree, then have it cut and put on top of their vehicle for the ride to the customers’ homes. Some come from as far as an hour away, with one customer this year traveling from Sunflower County for a tree, about two hours away.
Those customers take home a real tree, but Pounders added they also carry away the experience of a past time.
“When I was a kid, DeSoto County wasn’t developed like it is now,” said Pounders. “We’d go back in the woods and find a tree and cut it down for Christmas. Kids now days have never experienced the opportunity to go out into the country, find and pick their own real Christmas tree, or they’ve never known a real Christmas tree. You’re selling the experience of coming out to the country and picking your own tree.”
Pine Ridge Christmas Tree Farm is only open on the weekends, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday only. It is located at 1923 Fogg Road in Nesbit and the phone number is 901-268-9733.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.