Rural Edgerton resident turns tree hobby into business

These Norway spruce trees were grown at what is now TriState Tree Sales. The business is owned by Gene Raak, of rural Edgerton, and his brother, Steve. Contributed photo

Gene Raak, of rural Edgerton, recently returned from Wisconsin with about 2,500 one-year-old tree plugs. He’ll plant the trees in one-gallon plastic pots on a cement pad where he used to feed cattle at his farm and raise them for two years until they get to be about 1 or 2 feet tall.

His brother, Steve Raak, who lives in Wisconsin, will then market the trees on social media. Raak said they target the sales in about 20 cities, primarily within a 150 to 200-mile radius of Raak’s farm. They then take loads of trees to the cities and fulfill the orders, typically from a parking lot. People can also pick their trees up from Raak’s farm.

Raak said he started selling trees about five years ago as a hobby because he likes trees and nice windbreaks.

“It prevents erosion and slows down the wind,” he said. “I don’t remember the numbers, but I did a little research on how much carbon sequestering a tree will do in its lifetime of 40 or 50 years and it’s pretty incredible from an ecological standpoint how good trees are.”

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in one year. In addition, one large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.

Over time the Raaks started selling more and more trees, so they started planting more and more trees. Eventually, Raak said, it expanded beyond a hobby, so they recently decided to turn it into a business called TriState Tree Sales.

Right now, they’re growing six different varieties of spruce trees. Raak said they make good windbreaks, don’t lose their branches in wind and ice storms, and stay green all year. He said pines do the same thing, but also attract deer, which damage the trees.

“In the future I’m hoping to expand into some cash crop hardwoods like black walnut or oak,” Raak said.

Tree plugs like these are grown for two years to prepare them for sale. The trees are about 1 to 2 feet tall when they are sold. Contributed photo

TriState Tree Sales is not the first unintended business Raak started. He also owns a business called Dakota Garlic.

His garlic growing started about 20 years ago when a friend who had been raising garlic asked if he could rent some of Raak’s land so he could grow more. Later, his friend had some health problems and left the business, but Raak kept it going.

Raak said he plants one acre of garlic in the fall and harvests about 4,000 pounds the next summer. He uses no herbicides or pesticides.

He sells most of the garlic wholesale to garden catalog companies on the East Coast.

“People out there just really like the Midwest grown hardneck garlic,” he said. “It’s way way different than the softneck garlic grown in California that most grocery stores carry around here. It’s got just about double the flavor, double the intensity.”

People can order the garlic through Raak’s website at He’s also working on a website for TriState Tree Sales that will be operational soon at

In addition to trees and garlic, Raak also grows more traditional crops, including corn and soybeans.

“Both the trees and garlic fit in pretty well with crop farming because the seasons don’t overlap,”