SCHERERVILLE | Sweetie's Shoppe sits at a wide part of a winding path that cuts through hills laden with spruces, pines and firs at Luers Christmas Tree Farm, where people pay to saw and take home a tree.
Inside, tree hunters rest their bow saws and gather at tables for hot chocolate, popcorn and other treats as feeling returns to their fingers, noses and toes.
Evelyn Luers, an owner, led a group in Christmas carols Sunday. After urging people to check out the farm's Facebook page, she pulled for-sale decorations and toys from the gift shop shelves and tossed them to grasping hands.
"This is what it's about," she said.
It's a good year for tree farm owners like the Luers Family, as tree growers expect a busy 2013 sales period, partly because of increasing concern for the environment, according to Daniel Cassens, a Purdue Extension wood products specialist and professor of forestry and natural resources.
The season was off to an excellent start, with the shorter selling season between Thanksgiving and Christmas partially responsible, said Cassens, a member of the National Christmas Tree Growers Association.
About 28 million real trees are sold in the United States each year, and 200,000 choose-and-cut Christmas trees will be sold in Indiana this year. More than $1 billion in real trees will be sold in the United States, Cassens said.
For the Berman family from Evergreen Park, Ill., the trek to Luers is a five-year tradition.
"I don't like the fake ones," 13-year-old Kate Berman said. "It doesn't smell like Christmas."
Michelle Berman said her family has always opted for natural.
"It's not Christmas without a real tree," she said.
Craig Berman said they have tried different breeds each year, typically strapping a Douglas fir or blue spruce to the car at the end of the day.
Luers said the tree farm is about selling an experience. If people just want a tree, they can go to a big box store or tree lot, she said.
"People love to come here for the experience of a Christmas tree farm," she said. "It is our intent to give them an experience."
The Luers farm has been around for 38 years, covering acres of land at 6303 W. 91st Ave.
People return every winter, sometimes with a caravan of friends and family, Luers said.
The debate over whether real trees or artificial trees are better for the environment continues, Cassens said.
Tree growers argue their product is renewable, consumes carbon dioxide, gives off oxygen, is recyclable, provides wildlife habitats and creates jobs.
Those in the artificial tree industry say their trees can be reused and they do not need fertilizers or pesticides, Cassens said.