One Tree at a Time
The Jonsteen Company…
Born out of a friendship and mutual fondness of arbors, Jonathan Claasen and Steen Christensen are aiming to save the world one tree at a time through their business, The Jonsteen Company.
The idea came from Christensen’s parents. When they worked at the Muir Woods National Monument gift shop decades ago, they found the seedling kits were their best-selling items. Their son Steen encouraged them to start their own tree nursery; he was attending Humboldt State University at the time and could send Redwoods seedlings down to them to be packaged and sold.
Back then, it was a small mom-and-pop operation, and when Steen’s parents were ready to retire, they told their son that their tree nursery business was going to end. But when Steen told his friend Claasen about it, Claasen saw an opportunity to take over and grow the business.
“Steen came to me and thought there was something there. I was a wordsmith doing public relations, getting paid by the hour, and thought about how I would love to have a product that I could really get behind,” Claasen recalls. “I had been writing ad copy for food, wine, jewelry, everything you could think of. But writing about trees is so much better, richer, more rewarding. Trees are amazing. They have geographical ties, all of the aesthetics, longevity, interesting foliage habits, and it’s amazing how they shape over time, transform. And there are so many uses for them, like taking tone wood to make instruments, let alone the oxygen they provide and how they relieve stress,” he adds, continuing to rattle off the many benefits of living amongst trees.
Claasen and Christensen agreed to take over the business and change their approach to make their living souvenirs more environmental and park friendly. In 1992, Claasen and Christensen launched The Jonsteen Company with one customer – Muir Woods National Monument – selling seedling kits and putting together “trees in tubes” out of Claasen’s garage in Arcata.
“We went to work following this thread of tree love and appreciation. We had to do a lot back then to get the word out about our trees, because trees are not the new iPhone or PlayStation. There’s a huge disconnect between the natural world and human world. Sadly, there have been many people who’ve never even planted a tree,” Claasen says.
In the early days, Jonsteen went to trade shows, garden center shows, gift shows, everything they could to get the word out. “We got out there and became the biggest cheerleaders for trees, back before it was cool, and got into urban forestry,” Claasen explains.
They began growing their business (and their trees) and becoming more efficient as they sold their trees to hardware stores, pharmacies, art galleries. They built their first greenhouse from an old bulb farm that they found outside of McKinleyville, and the business took off from there.
Nowadays, The Jonsteen Company has a 20-acre property and produces around one million trees per year. It works with more than 100 species that are part of its living library/arboretum. And with the changing climate, it’s further augmented their energy towards getting people to plant as many trees as possible and appreciate the value that trees bring.
“Trees are such an amazing representation of time and vast antiquity. There are all the benefits of different aged stands, different stories of trees. As one fellow said, ‘You pull one thing out and it’s connected to the whole universe,’ Claasen says with a smile.
The Jonsteen Company prides itself on being a tree educator, and collaborates with schools, nonprofits and businesses big and small to share knowledge and give appreciation to trees. It donates seedling kits to teachers as part of the Trees For Little People program and its trees are sold at Disneyland, the White House and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Claasen says his partner Steen is a tree climber, spent a good amount of time studying trees at Sequoia National Park and collaborates with fascinating scientists, arborists and others who are part of “a bohemian crew of tree pirates.” Jonsteen grows tree species that adapt to their proper climates and landscapes all across the country and is arguably the originator of 100-percent-guaranteed seed germination grow kits.
“For a lot of people, this is a gateway drug to nature. A lot of people have never germinated a tree from seedling and once they see it grow, they get hooked. When people call, we give advice, and sometimes even bereavement counseling for those who’ve lost a tree,” Claasen chuckles. “But people always come out with a smile on their face and a fresh tree.”
When asked what his goals for The Jonsteen Company are, Claasen replies, “The short answer is having fun with trees, marketing them and sharing the fascinating world of them. But our main goal is to conquer the world with trees. Have people recognize trees as objects of desire and develop an appreciation for them.
“We want to continue growing in every aspect, from producing tree seedlings to marketing. We would love for a big company to do a big tree giveaway, like plant a million trees and see what happens to them in 10 years to really see a profound effect. We just can’t grow them fast enough; we’re never satisfied with the number of trees in our living library.”
Claasen does admit to having a special affinity for Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias, though.
“They mean a ton to our company. They’re the trees of California and an icon to the National Forest Service,” Claasen says.
For more information about how to buy Jonsteen seedling kits, wholesale Jonsteen products, or access its educational resources, visit www.jonsteen.com. •