Above: Jeannine, Cathy and Charles Doan are shown in this old family photo.
By Sheila Cote
To behold a beautiful picture or painting can be a memorable experience. However, when we learn the history behind a picture, we are given a new lens through which to appreciate its story.
I arrived at Granny D’s Christmas Tree Farm in Hanover, Michigan, just as Cathy Doan opened the entrance gate. Cathy Doan and her brother Craig Doan currently own Granny D’s. Their story began almost a century earlier when their grandfather, Clarence Doan, purchased the 285-acre farm in 1928.
“You’re standing on sacred ground,” Craig says, “We were very close to our grandparents and parents. In five years, we will host our centennial celebration – we will have food, drink, music, hayrides, etc., and explain how the farm was purchased and the storyline behind that.”
Cathy and Craig’s mom, Jeannine Doan, was born in Hanover, Michigan, at her maternal grandparent’s farm and was delivered by her grandfather, a doctor, on December 24, 1930. Jeannine turned 18 in 1948 and married Charles Doan on January 1, 1949. The newlyweds moved to Charles’ parents’ farm in 1950, the same year that Cathy was born, followed four years later by her brother Craig in 1954.
“In the 60s, our parents worked two jobs and also worked on the farm. Back in those days, it was tough being a farmer. In the 50s and 60s, they paid people not to farm and put the soil in a “soil bank” so farmers couldn’t plant. When those programs expired, people tried getting back into farming, and so did we. Working the soil that had sat for about 10 years was quite a chore, and our equipment was old,” Craig recalls.
Above: Jeannine and Charles Doan
Jeannine Doan worked for the Department of Agriculture of Jackson County, starting as an administrator and eventually filling the role of executive director. The valedictorian of her class, Jeannine, was the last person without a degree to hold the executive director position. Craig shares, “She loved farming, and had a way with farming, and understood the farmer’s needs — everybody loved our mom. She would explain new programs, how they affected farmers, and what it took to farm back in the 60s.”
Cathy remembers planting the first Christmas trees in 1966 when she was 16. “It wasn’t meant to be a commercial tree business; it was meant to be a conservation project. Mom worked for the Department of Agriculture for 30 years, and when these conservation programs came along, everything started. We just kept planting trees, and it only occurred to Mom later to sell them. We started selling the first trees in the late 70s. I recently found an old sign that said, ‘Christmas Trees $5!” The trees were planted on 60 acres on the non-tillable part of the farmland.
Upon retiring from the Department of Agriculture in 1985, Jeannine went to all the elementary schools to ask if the kids would like to go on a field trip to the farm. She set up a beautiful petting zoo to entertain the children who came and would dress as Granny, becoming the namesake of Granny D’s Christmas Tree Farm.
“Our grandparents’ and parents’ work ethic poured over to us,” Craig states, “and we will continue to carry their legacy. We want to show what can happen in a hundred years with three, almost four generations. Cathy adds, “I have no children, but Craig has three daughters who are also interested in doing this, and they help as much as possible. All three girls are coming home to help us out.”
Above: Cathy, Jeannine and Craig.
Cathy starts up the Gator ATV to take me on a tree farm tour. She knows every detail about each species but admits that beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder. There are many variables and unknowns to factor into a business affected by weather (drought/excessive rain), disease, and what trees are popular amongst tree buyers. “We plant five species: White pine, blue spruce, Fraser firs, concolor firs, and a newer species to us is the Canaan firs. We used to plant more blue spruce, Spartan spruce, etc., but the spruce trees fell out of favor after the fir trees became popular (fir trees are soft).” The optimum time for a tree to grow is eight years, but typically they require 10-12 years. An ongoing issue is weed control, especially when it rains a lot.
As our scenic gator tour continues, Cathy shares, “We’re going to plant 2500 trees next year. Out of the 1500-2500 trees planted yearly, at least a quarter won’t make it. We have deer damage, but we build the loss into the equation. We’ve never had irrigation, so we’ve been at the mercy of the weather. We drilled a well, and hopefully, we can do some irrigation this year with the trees we plant.”
Preparation of the land for planting requires days of work, but over the years, instead of planting the trees by hand, they rent a two-man planter and can plant 1500-2500 trees in a single day. “It’s a big job,” Cathy states, “we just planted 2500 trees in April.”
In November 2021, at almost 91, Craig and Cathy’s beloved mother, Jeannine — Granny D, passed away, 14 years after her husband of 59 years. A true entrepreneur and pioneer, Jeannine will forever be remembered as a hard-working, genuine, generous, beautiful, and classy woman. Jeannine’s legacy lives on in the lives and hearts of her children, family, and friends — as is evident in spending time with Cathy and Craig.
Understanding another’s history takes us from being an observer of something bigger than ourselves to being a part of it. When listening to the power of another’s story, we can catch glimpses of our own lives — both hardships and dreams — within the storyline. Granny D left a Norman Rockwellian painting of a beautiful life, family, and legacy behind her. Now that we know her story a little more, we can better appreciate the picture we see when we go to visit Granny D’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Above: Craig, Julie, Tyler and Cathy work hard to keep the farm prosperous.
Granny D’s Christmas Tree Farm is located at 12300 Grover Road, Hanover, Mich., and will open the Friday after Thanksgiving or by appointment (call 517-795-3666 or 517-563-8533). There will be hayrides, a snack shack, and a Santa’s House with visits to Santa available on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Tree prices have yet to be determined, but the price will be the same per tree regardless of size. Hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.