Paulie Drexler, who runs the tree farm of Springside Farm with her husband, Ed, often thinks about the snow during the beginning of fall. She sees it as nothing strange. “Some may think it’s crazy to talk snow this time of year,” she said, “but then again, we grow and talk about Christmas trees in July.”
For their Fabius, New York operation near Syracuse, which also serves as an agritourism destination, planning for the upcoming winter is a necessity. Drexler shares her keys to preparedness against the impending snow season.
“If you can’t get them in, you can’t sell them anything. That’s the truth,” Drexler said. “You have to look open for business from the highway or else people will drive away. You’re losing business and you don’t even know it. It’s as simple as that.”
It’s the owner’s responsibility to clear the first line of your ag business, she noted: The parking lot. Drexler’s farm uses a 75-hp Massey Ferguson with a frontend loader and snow blower on back. “We use a skid-steer if it gets really bad as the season progresses,” she added. “Sometimes that’s not enough and you need to move large amounts of snow out of the way.”
Having a clear lot is the difference between a satisfied customer and lost business. “We have those who buy trees from us to sell for Christmas,” Drexler said. “If they can’t get in, they’ll go somewhere else. That could be lost business for the next year, too.”
In addition to its snow obligation, the farm’s Massey also plays the role of wagon ride tractor for its agritourism business. When the eventual snowstorm lands, it is difficult to pull double duty.
“After a big snowfall we have to suspend our wagon ride. It is not safe to go through the snow,” Drexler said. “You can’t plow everywhere. Some of your stuff like your seasonal paths start plowing up dirt and gravel and it becomes impractical at a certain point.”
She also pointed out that although the lot and paths are cleared out, some customers may be prone to error and find themselves in trouble. Drexler said the burden still falls on the owner to assist their patrons.
“Occasionally you do get people who are stuck,” she said. “That’s not fun, but you have to be ready for that. It’s nonnegotiable.”
Drexler has heard the horror stories, and she plans not to be one of them. “It’s my responsibility to avoid any hazards,” she said. “God forbid someone gets hurt.”
Hawkish attention needs to be applied, Drexler noted. The first step for safety is preparing ahead of time on the business end.
“You better be ready by Thanksgiving,” she said matter-of-factly, “and make sure you get it done earlier in that day. It gets worse if your equipment isn’t ready to go. That’ll give you a two- or three-hour delay right there.”
Drexler noted that during the season, her crew checks their inventory such as shovels and plows and pays attention to the little things such as making sure the tractor is fully charged and serviceable. “Definitely make sure your tractor is plugged in,” she joked. “You never want to be cussed out by the morning crew. It’s just the way things go.”
She recommends to keep vigilant in clearing and de-icing all walkways and paths. It will be unfortunate for a customer to injure themselves, but it won’t be any better for the owners with any accompanying lawsuits, she said.
“Planning: That’s what it takes. We have skin in the game, and it’s not an option. Your customers matter,” Drexler said. “Farmers are practical by nature. You don’t do yourself any favors by not being prepared.”