Holly days: Busy, busy time for couple juggling three businesses

December 2017 Posted in Business, Community, Garden, Other

By Nancy JenningsIMG_5535

If you are picking up your mail or shipping a package at Silverton’s Postal Connections, there’s a good chance you will be greeted by Don Harteloo. Ask how he is doing on any given day and he will cheerfully reply, “Unbelievable, here.”

Don, along with his wife, Sue, own and manage two Postal Connections stores. He runs the Silverton location, opened in 2013, and she oversees Stayton’s, opened in 2003. Since 1988, they have been operating Mill Creek Holly Farms, too.

Located in Stayton, the Harteloo’s farm contains 1,500 holly trees, each 20 to 30 feet tall. The traditional holiday evergreen, with its vibrant red berries, has no scent.

Married for 36 years, Don, 65, and Sue, 62, have two daughters, Melissa, 34, Michelle, 31, and one granddaughter, two-year-old Sophia Marie.

Don inherited the farm from his parents.

“My mother and father bought this farm in 1958. About 15 to 20 years later, they were watching the news one evening and saw a feature about a holly farm. The story stated it was the ‘closest thing to harvesting money off of the trees,’” Don explained.

At that time, his father was the manager of the local telephone company and was gifted with a holly tree by an employee. He planted it on the other side of their driveway and it quickly flourished. Seeing was believing. “My father thought ‘Maybe we can plant more and leave it to our children – and they can benefit from picking money off the trees,’” he said. The rest, as they say, is history.

The holly leaves, called “leaflets,” come in either Green English or Silver Variegated varieties. The holly berries first appear in June with a pinkish color and ripens to a richer red color in late October.

“The cold nights set the color,” Sue said.

Harvest time usually begins around mid-November and runs right up to Christmas. Foreman Manuel Manzo has been a mainstay at the family farm for 50 years. A challenging concern for Manzo each year is hoping the local huge flock of robins don’t eat too many of the tempting red berries, the crown jewel of the business.

Depending on the needs at the time, 16 to 25 workers help pick the holly and prepare it to sell. No machines are used, all is done by hand.

“All of the holly is dipped in a big vat that has a hormone treatment in it. It costs $1,000 a gallon and it prolongs the life,” Don explained.

“Holly is more akin to a rose than to a typical evergreen, so it does have a shorter life span. We also use a floral solution that helps the leaves retain moisture,”
Sue added.

They have shipped online orders as far away as Canada, Alaska and Hawaii.

“A couple of guys back in Massachusetts buy from us every year. They call and we chat for about an hour. We actually got the chance to meet them two years ago. We were in Boston and they were in town,” Sue said.

When the couple is able to spend time with their family, they all head to Corvallis to root on the Oregon
State Beavers.

“We’ve had basketball season tickets for 40 years, and our football ones for 25,” Don said. “Our girls grew up from the time they were infants watching the basketball games,” Sue said with a grin.

They are also season ticketholders at the Pentacle Theatre in Salem. Sue was the director of the theater program for six years at Stayton’s Regis High School.

The couple appreciates the flexible and devoted staff they have at their Postal Connections stores.

“They are like family to us, and they know if we have to step out for a crisis with the farm, they’re right there to
make sure things keep rolling smoothly,” Sue said.

“They are unbelievable,” Don added.

Mill Creek Holly Farms can be reached at www.millcreekholly.com.

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