CASPER, Wyo. – Casper is an unlikely place for a tree farm.
Just ask the tree farmers.
“The Wyoming climate, between the soil, the weather, the water…it’s rough,” says Kylie Smidt.
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Her father, Bruce Smidt, agrees.
“You don’t get any natural rainfall here, and when you do there’s always a chance of hail so you’d just assume it didn’t rain most of the time,” he said.
The Smidt family has been running Leeward Tree Farm since the mid-90s, but their roots in Casper started in 1976, after Bruce and his wife Jennifer moved here from southwest Iowa.
Later they had two kids, Kylie and Freddie, who’d grow up and get into the family business.
Bruce, armed with a degree in landscape architecture, ran a landscaping business for years. He was soon frustrated by the trees being imported, which couldn’t survive Wyoming’s unique climate.
“He was tired of shipping trees from out of state,” said Kylie. “He wanted local trees and trees that would do well here.”
So in 1994 he bought a ten-acre alfalfa field and started planting his own trees, naming the farm Leeward, which refers to sheltering from the wind. Several years later he bought another alfalfa field and closed his landscaping business to concentrate on growing trees and produce.
Most of the tree business comes from individual customers and homeowners. They grow four to five years before they’re harvested, and by that time they’ve acclimated to Wyoming’s climate.
“We don’t have a huge variety because there aren’t a lot that do well here,” said Kylie. “We specialize in native trees and we also have some hearty introduced species that do well here.”
They eventually set aside land to grow produce, which they sold at area farmers markets.
As that business grew, so did the land and produce variety.
“Sweet corn and pumpkins are two big crops we do,” said Kylie, “but we also grow potatoes, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, carrots, squash, some tomatoes, some peppers, onions, and a little bit of eggplant.”
Bruce says they’ve learned which crops thrive by trial and error.
“Some crops do a lot better here than others,” he said. “The beets just kind of lend themselves to this area.”
Varieties that need more TLC are onions, cucumbers and the pumpkins.
Late summer is when they open up their roadside produce stand, which was made from an old, modified grain bin. From there Kylie sells produce that was grown yards away and pulled from the ground mere hours or even moments earlier.
The family of four still do the vast majority of the work themselves, with some hired work during heavy harvesting seasons.
Bruce and Jennifer live on the farm in a house they’ve built. Freddie lives on the other side of the farm with his family. Kylie has a place near downtown but is at the farm every day.
“I like getting my hands in the dirt, I like being busy,” said Kylie.
“There are rewards here if you can figure out how to do it,” said Bruce.
Leeward Tree Farm and the produce stand is located at 11771 Zero Road in Casper. The produce stand is open for the season. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. More information is available at their Facebook page by clicking here.