Catie Metcalfe and Gene Bystryk: The Gift of Sustainability on Their Christmas Tree Farm

Catie and Gene’s stewardship on their Christmas tree farm does more than warm the heart, it has tangible effects on the environment and local wildlife.

Catie Metcalfe and Gene Bystryk, Cagene Christmas Tree Farm.

Catie Metcalfe and Gene Bystryk own the Cagene Christmas Tree Farm, in Norfolk Ontario.

There are few places in Canada that offer a festive atmosphere all year round, but Cagene’s Christmas Tree Farm is one of them. Located outside Simcoe, Ontario, the property is a testament to its owners’ commitment to sustainable tree planting and wildlife protection. 

Cagene’s Christmas Tree Farm is owned by Catie Metcalfe and Gene Bystryk. In addition to growing Christmas trees, they’ve planted a variety of cover crops to build soil health. Catie produces compost to enhance soil on their land, too, following organic practices as much as possible. 

Motivated by wildlife conservation 

Catie and Gene have been involved with ALUS Norfolk since 2016. Of their 49-acre farm , 11.3 acres are enrolled in ALUS projects. Initially, the couple were motivated by the idea of bringing wildlife to their farm. But their efforts to steward their land have also had many other positive impacts on the environment and their community. 

“The soil was stripped when we bought it, and it’s starting to come back,” said Catie. “It’s something we always wanted to do, and it was just a bonus that this program was here.” 

Tallgrass prairie, trees and wildflowers add to biodiversity 

Work on the ALUS projects began in 2018 with the seeding of Tallgrass prairie. Once the Tallgrass prairie had taken root, Catie and Gene worked with ALUS to begin planting trees. So far, over 5000 mixed deciduous and coniferous trees have been scatter planted on the land. Catie and Gene planted around 1,000 of these trees themselves. 

“We’re glad we helped, because now we know what’s being planted here,” said Catie. 

Wildflowers were planted among the Tallgrass prairie and trees to help support local biodiversity and pollinator habitat. Habitat creation was an important consideration for Catie and Gene, who installed bird boxes to further encourage local species to call their property home.  

The land enrolled in ALUS makes for a pretty sight, but it also has numerous benefits for the environment. The three sections of Tallgrass prairie that were planted on sandy knolls help prevent wind erosion. The trees, which include white pine, tamarack, and various oak species, complement the existing woodlot that borders the farm. Overall, the project is contributing to cleaner air, cleaner water, and greater biodiversity—both on the farm and in the wider community. 

Since the area is traditionally a wetland, Catie and Gene have allowed it to get back to nature and become a haven for wildlife. Catie said the farm has “more birds and different species than you could imagine.” 

“We were given instructions for maintaining the prairie, so that’s what we’ve been doing and what we plan to keep on doing,” she added.

Wildflowers were planted among the Tallgrass prairie and trees.

Wildflowers were planted among the Tallgrass prairie and trees to help support local biodiversity and pollinator habitat.

Sustainability efforts rewarded in 2020  

Aside from the environmental benefits that sustainable farming has brought to their land, Catie and Gene’s approach also resulted in greater interest in their business.  

The farmers say that 2020 was one of their busiest years yet, as customers flocked to purchase locally grown Christmas trees. It was a year when people were particularly in need of holiday cheer, but also a time of heightened awareness of the benefits of supporting local farmers.  

“We opened a month earlier than normal, and they pretty much cleaned us out,” Gene told the Simcoe Reformer at the time. 

 

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