Skyla Aissen has her work gloves on and is ready for the future.
Aissen, a Christmas tree grower, graduated with honors from UW-Green Bay, receiving a business administration degree in December.
The 21-year-old completed her college education in 3½ years, despite having a near-full-time job, running two businesses and managing property that she purchased herself.
And she made it through without any college debt.
Aissen is a fourth-generation Christmas tree grower. Her parents, Jeff and Tammy, grow about 50,000 trees on 70 acres of scenic, rolling hills in the rural Kewaunee County community of Pilsen.
Aissen was 9 years old when she started a side business on the family’s tree farm, creating kissing balls — supersized mistletoe — that have become increasingly popular as household Christmas-decorating staples. She sold 45 kissing balls the first year. That number skyrocketed to 380 this year. They ended up paying for her entire college education.
Aissen’s second business within the business, now shared with her fiancé, Nathan Vanderbloemen, is tree coloring. All 50 sold out last year during their trial run, so they did it again this year and all 75 sold out.
Although Aissen’s business acumen is homegrown, she was determined to be completely prepared for her future by earning a bachelor’s degree through UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin School of Business.
“I wanted to obtain my bachelor’s degree to enhance our marketing and management skills on the farm,” said Aissen, who maintained a 3.9 grade-point average. “I knew it was important for me to obtain a degree, because owning a tree farm is a high risk. Knowing these risks, I realized that I needed a backup plan in case of a natural disaster or health complications as life can be very unpredictable and it is always good to be prepared.”
And she’s thrilled to have graduated without any college debt.
“If you work hard, you can graduate early with no debt, it just takes dedication and time management skills,” Aissen said. “It is also important not to spend so much time on social media or on mobile devices. Even though it may seem stressful, it is important to push through, and you will eventually reap the rewards.”
Aissen is turning her attention to her business prospects — her family’s tree farm and the 7½-acre property across the road she purchased.
“The property is a fixer-upper with a house, barn, garage and shed,” she said. “However, I already have more than 2,500 trees planted on the property, with hopes to plant thousands more. … I would like to expand the farm and turn my barn into a wedding venue and the house into a bed and breakfast, as well.”
Aissen’s business degree will prove beneficial in several ways, she said, most notably to “think through and solve problems.”
“It has also taught me better time-management skills and how to manage money,” she said. “From paying for school to paying for all overhead costs, employees, insurance, mortgage payments, taxes, monthly fees and maintenance costs on the new property, I have learned how to properly keep records and manage all of my finances successfully.”
With the Christmas season in the rear-view mirror, the Aissens turn their attention to post-holiday inventory in their 2,000-square-feet gift shop.
This month, Aissen will travel with family members to Atlanta to attend a wholesale mart and shop for next year. Upon return, they work on planning, preparation and cutting firewood that heats the house and two shops.
In spring they plant 5,000 trees by hand, followed by fertilizing, removing previous stumps, fixing ruts, conducting weed control and mowing. In summer they shear 50,000 trees and collect pine cones for wreaths.
“It’s a 24/7, 365-days-a-year job, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.
Aissen is proud to continue the family’s tree farming history.
“I love being part of this,” she said. “I see what my parents built and how hard they’ve worked and the success they’ve had. And I see there’s room for growth. I love being part of this and want to keep doing it.”
Story courtesy of UW-Green Bay. The Country Today contributed to this report.