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Tree falls, signaling start of the season
Times photos: Brenda Steurer Alice in Dairyland Cheryl OBrien talks to Brodhead elementary school students Wednesday about Christmas trees at Pauls Tree Farm near Brodhead. She came to the tree farm, which is owned by Paul and Helen Schilling, to cut down the first Christmas tree of the season, she said.
BRODHEAD - Alice in Dairyland Cheryl O'Brien and Santa Claus came to Paul's Tree Farm southeast of Brodhead to cut down the first Christmas tree of the season in front of an audience of Albrecht Elementary School fourth-grade students Wednesday.

"It's Santa Claus," the children yelled when they saw him and Mrs. Claus walk through the field of trees.

The children crowded under umbrellas as rain fell on the festivities.

"Real trees smell better than fake trees," Azaleigh Steiner, 10, Brodhead, said.

O'Brien came to Paul Schilling's tree farm to highlight the importance of Christmas tree farming to Wisconsin's farm economy, and to highlight the fact that the next Alice will be crowned in Rock County in 2010.

Before her reign ends in May, O'Brien is expected to visit more than 100 schools and make about 300 appearances across the state as she talks to people about Wisconsin agriculture.

While most associate corn and cows with the state's agriculture, Wisconsin is fifth nationally in Christmas tree production, O'Brien said. More than 1.8 million Christmas trees are harvested here every year, she told the fourth-graders.

Schilling said his grandfather first planted Christmas trees in 1948. He and his wife, Helen, took over the family operation in 1963. About half of the land on the 160-acre farm is used to grow Christmas trees.

The students listened politely while O'Brien and Schilling told them about Christmas trees and how important they are to Wisconsin, but it was the sight of Santa Claus that got them excited.

As Santa, Mrs. Claus and the children watched, Schilling helped O'Brien cut down the Canaan fir, which was taken to Albrecht Elementary School.

The children ended their trip to the tree farm with some popcorn and apple cider.