November 26, 2007


Taking a bough —

Evergreens keep local tree farms in the black despite growth issues

Tree farm

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Emil Wakula of Cortland carries a white fir from a field at Roberts Family Tree Farm on Clark Street Extension in Groton Saturday.

Staff Reporter

Emil and Janice Wakula have been going to the Roberts Family Tree Farm in Groton for their Christmas tree for the past 10 years.
“It’s not Christmas without a real tree,” said Janice Wakula, who always picks out a white fir.
The Roberts family farm sells between 650 and 750 trees each year.
The Roberts farm and other area tree farms expect sales to be good this year despite a drought this summer and some problems with tree health.
“What affects it (sales) more than anything is when a local tree farm opens and people go and check out the new one; or when one closes, people will come here,” said Mary Roberts. “But now there are more tree farms closing than opening.”
The 15-acre family farm has roughly a dozen different varieties of trees, each of which takes an average of 10 years to grow.
Roberts said his trees come from private nurseries in the Northeast because the stock is more consistent, they can be sure the trees will grow in New York weather and the genetics can be guaranteed.
However, only about one dozen of 300 planted trees this year survived at the Roberts Tree Farm.
“Droughts affect our baby trees, not our established trees,” Roberts said.
She added that the loss of their baby trees planted this year was not because of the drought, but because the roots of the trees were not strong enough.
Ralph Pittman, owner of Pittman’s Tree Farm in Lapeer, said his farm was not feeling any affects of the drought either.
“We are in an area where the property is a heavy clay soil and is wetter than gravel-based soil areas, so we haven’t had problems with the drought,” Pittman said. “If the seedlings don’t get rain the first several weeks, though, it will damage the trees. But if they survive the first year, they seem to handle the ups and downs of the weather.”
Pittman, who sells five different varieties of trees on his 20-acre farm, plants between 500 and 1,000 seedlings annually.
“We get them through DEC Reforestation Department,” Pittman said.
Pittman does not sell Douglas firs, one of the top-selling trees according to the National Christmas Tree Association, but the Roberts farm does, 350 of which had to be cut down due to needle cast disease. These were already established trees at the farm.
“It spreads from Douglas fir to Douglas fir, but won’t jump over the species,” Roberts said. “We won’t plant the Douglas firs anymore. The disease held off for a long time then the trees got frosted in the spring. It’s like a 10 year loss for us.”
Pittman said his only problem is insects.
“We always have insects that bother the different trees, but that’s nothing new,” he said.
Both Pittman and Roberts said business is steady with a lot of repeat customers each year.
“We are certainly not feeling any recession or depression in the number of customers.” Roberts said. “Occasionally people will say they go to an artificial tree because it’s easier, not because they are dissatisfied with the trees.”




State gives more to Food Bank

Local food pantries will benefit from an additional $552,100 allotment

Staff Reporter

An additional $552,100 announced last week for an organization that provides low-price food for area food pantries will serve as a safety net as more families struggle to keep up with the rising cost of fuel and other expenses this winter.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced the funding for the Food Bank of Central New York in Syracuse on Wednesday.
“This will be welcome in the winter months when families are struggling with higher fuel costs and other costs,” Heather Hudson, director of food sourcing and nutrition for the Food Bank of Central New York, said this morning. “There are a lot of working families out there that need the help.”
The money comes in addition to about $5 million included in the state’s 2007-08 budget, and can be used to provide more low-cost food to food pantries or free food to food pantries facing empty shelves.
The process for obtaining the funds must still be explained to the individual food pantries, Hudson said.
She said this if the first time in her six years with the Central New York Food Bank that she recalls an additional allocation from the state.
Many local food pantries buy their food through the Food Bank of Central New York, and Ann Marie Phelps, the director of community and family services with Catholic Charities on Central Avenue in Cortland, said the additional funding would help keep food on the shelves.
“We’re always pinched this time of year — you anticipate the worst, but you can’t plan ahead for that,” Phelps said Wednesday afternoon. “We had a bare cupboard in October; we just had a few cans of vegetables on the shelf … October is a long month, and I guess it was a busy month. But we’re fully stocked now.”
Phelps said that was only the second time that the pantry had been dangerously low since she started in 1993.
Catholic Charities orders and purchases its food from the Food Bank once a month — for every $1 spent, Catholic Charities receives as much as $2 worth of food because it is purchased at a discount, Phelps said.
The pantry serves between 18 and 30 people a day and is open five days a week.
“We give a family enough food for three meals a day for three days,” Phelps said.
Through Oct. 31, Phelps said the pantry has served 63,000 meals.
The Food Bank is the main provider for the Salvation Army’s food pantry, said Capt. Danielle Dorchak of the Salvation Army mission on south Main Street.
“The funding we get through the Food Bank is critical,” Dorchak said.



Friends, community helping out Summerhill family

Donations have been sent and fundraiser planned after fire destroyed their Salt Road house

Staff Reporter

SUMMERHILL — With a fire destroying their home early Wednesday morning, the Felko family spent Thanksgiving together at a friend’s house.
“It was nice to forget about the lack of a house,” said Peggy Felko. “I didn’t even think about it that day. We had nine children, three adults, turkey and all the fixings and watched movies. But it was frustrating to wake up Friday morning and all the places like the insurance company were closed.”
“Hopefully normalcy will come back Monday when the kids return to school,” Chuck Felko added.
Chuck and Peggy Felko lived at 245 Salt Road with their six children. All eight family members and the three family dogs escaped the blaze.
The children, five of whom are foster children, range from ages 2 to 13, according to the Cayuga County Red Cross, an organization that responded to the fire and provided groceries and clothing to the family.
Susan Marteney, executive director for the Cayuga County chapter of the Red Cross, said Saturday that the agency did its initial response but has not heard back from the family.
Felko said all the children have been taken care of between help from the Red Cross, friends and family and community donations. He added that all of the children were clothed and ready to go back to school this morning.
“Peggy and I want to thank everyone in the community. The outpouring has been absolutely unbelievable,” Felko said. “We can’t thank everyone enough.”
The Felko’s have received donations of cash, clothing and toys from community members, both whom they know and don’t know.
Chuck Felko said they have even received calls about furniture donations and one family has taken in one of their dogs.
Chuck and Peggy Felko are staying with their neighbors, Jim and Mona Head at 239 Salt Road. They said their children are split up with friends in the area, who are also foster parents.
Peggy Felko said that her mother-in-law’s church, Groton City United Church of Christ, is adopting the children for Christmas. She added that the principals of the Groton Middle and Elementary schools are organizing a pasta dinner fundraiser for next week.
Both principals were not available for details on the event this morning.