From child’s play to family legacy; discover the special story behind this inner city Christmas tree farm that spans 76 years
Meet the family behind this treasured Christmas tree farm
It was, and still is, a rite of passage for Misa children to work at the Misa Christmas Tree Farm each December. The Auckland landmark is an unexpected sight in the heart of Balmoral, with its swathe of pine trees cutting through the central city suburb. Every December, hordes of excited families flock to the farm to walk among the festive wonderland and select their tree of choice.
What started as two children selling macrocarpa branches in front of their farm 76 years ago has developed into a treasured family business and a key part of many Aucklanders’ Christmases.
Those entrepreneurial children were Michael Fuyala’s mother, Ivy Misa, and her brother Ron, who set up a macrocarpa ‘Christmas tree’ stall in front of their farm. Realising the idea had legs, the pair’s father, Tom, and uncle Karl turned it into a business, selling Christmas trees each season.
“My great-uncle Karl was a bit of an icon in the family,” says Michael. “He lived to the age of 100.” After Karl died, Ron went on to own and manage the property, continuing the Christmas tradition alongside his fishing work. Sadly, he developed motor neuron disease in 2011 and the family stepped in to run the business.
“That last year when Uncle Ron became ill, I took five weeks off work and managed the farm,” Michael explains. “It wouldn’t have been very nice for him to see it closed, because he was quite passionate about the business. So I got my HT licence and learned to drive a truck!”
Take care tips
- Tradition says you should put up your tree after 1 December and take it down on 5 January, the twelfth day of Christmas.
- The tree needs plenty of water. Ensure it doesn’t run dry and replenish the tree’s water every few days. A big tree will drink up to a few litres in the first few days.
- The base should be cut fresh just before the tree goes into water. If you travel one hour from the tree farm to home, cut a sliver off the bottom before putting it in water.
- Keep the tree out of direct sunlight as it will cause the tree to wilt before its time.
A place to gather
The Misa farm, at just over one hectare, was originally bought by Michael’s grandfather, Tom, and great-uncle Karl. Tom was sent on his own from Dalmatia (Croatia), as a 14-year-old, to earn money to send home to the family. Initially working as a gum digger in the Far North, he eventually settled down in Auckland, joined by his wife Antica, also from Dalmatia, and his brother Karl.
The large homestead they lived in, and another house on the site, are now rented out, but the family maintains use of various sheds on the property.
With the addition of a pool table and an old Chevy, one of the sheds is now “the ultimate man cave”. It also functions as the perfect spot for family get-togethers – simple occasions where slices of lamb off the spit are devoured from plastic plates.
“The house was always the central meeting place for the family and it was a bit of a hub,” explains Michael. “It was almost like an open home and although that dynamic has changed, we still see it as a place where we can arrange big, outdoor family gatherings. We all hope our kids will be able to work in the business, because it’s a fun thing to do in December. That’s probably what motivates us, I guess.”
The next generation
When Ron passed away in 2012, the family weren’t keen on parting with the farm. Michael, with his brother, Tom, and cousin Ivan Sokolich, took over the management, with the rest of the family continuing to help.
Ivan now does most of the day-to-day running of the farm, helped by his son Ivica and the family. “It does actually bring everyone together to work on the business,” says Michael. “There’s a lot of work ahead of the season. We all just pick up different responsibilities, like ordering trees and the like.”
Most of the group juggles farm work alongside families and full-time jobs, so Decembers are full on for everyone. “Every year I say, ‘This is the last one I’m doing,’ but the next year I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s just do it again,’” laughs Michael.
“It’s a really special time. We have customers who come in with their children and they say, ‘My parents came in with me when I was this age and now I bring my kids in.’ It’s that whole experience.”
Michael, who heads the digital division of Bauer Media (publisher of Your Home and Garden), has worked at the farm almost every December since the age of 10 and treasures his time there. “It’s fun, physical work outside and you get to work with fun people in a casual environment. It smells amazing, you go home smelling like a Christmas tree, and the people who come through are always in a really positive mood.”
Find out more information at misachristmastrees.co.nz
Words by: Fiona Ralph. Photography by: Helen Bankers.