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High school sophomore selling trees for FFA project

Joey Thomas will deliver and plant them too

Joey Thomas is selling trees for his FFA project, Canopy Joe.
Joey Thomas is selling trees for his FFA project, Canopy Joe.

MAZON – Spring is prime tree-planting season, and for a Future Farmers of America project, an area high school student is selling potted trees to those who want to add some shade and beauty to their yards, businesses or farms.

And, just in time for Arbor Day, for each tree he sells, he is donating enough money to the Arbor Day Foundation to plant a tree in one of our national forests.

“I started around this time last year,” rural Mazon resident and Seneca High School sophomore Joey Thomas said. “I ended up selling 70 trees. I hope I can sell quite a few more trees this year.”

Joey’s family has strong roots in agriculture. His grandfather and uncle grow soybeans and corn, and his parents own Spring Grove Nursery in Mazon.

So when he joined FFA his freshman year, exploring the tree-growing business was a natural for him.

FFA members participate in a supervised agricultural experience, or SAE, which is designed to foster their understanding of careers.

According to the FFA website,, through the SAE program, “students are able to consider multiple careers and occupations, learn expected workplace behavior, develop specific skills within an industry, and are given opportunities to apply academic and occupational skills in the workplace or a simulated workplace environment.”

Joey’s SAE business is “Canopy Joe.” His product is different from that of his parents’ business in that his trees are younger and smaller. They run 6-10 feet tall in 7-gallon pots. Most are at least $100 less expensive than the larger-caliper trees at Spring Grove, and he will plant the trees himself for an additional $25.

He knows what he’s doing, too,
with the advice from practiced family members and from his own experience.

“Growing up,” he said, “I helped my mom in the office and my dad in the field. I worked during planting season since I was about 6.”

When he was that young, Joey would sit on the planter with his father, balancing out the weight. He said he remembers walking around the acreage and picking up worms, which he would plop down by the trees. He knew even then the value earthworms give to the soil.

Today, through, Joey sells sugar maples, redpointe red maples, autumn blaze red maples, royal raindrop crabapples, sourwoods, white oaks, shingle oaks, bur oaks, red oaks, tulip trees, Canada red chokecherry, Norway spruce and river birch.

His biggest seller last year was the Norway spruce, a large evergreen he said is popular for wind breaks and larger properties. For smaller yards, his best seller has been the crabapple, which he said blooms a beautiful pink in the spring.

When he was planning his Canopy Joe business, Joey knew he wanted to include some kind of charitable aid to the nation’s forests. His family has visited and camped in the forests and parks for years. He estimates he has been to more than 20.

“We’ve gone camping a lot,” he said. “We just love doing it. We started off in tents, and about nine or 10 years ago, we got a little pop-up camper that we pull behind our truck. I love hiking. I love nature.”

Joey’s favorite camping and hiking destination is Rocky Mountain National Park, which he and his family have visited several times.

Joey also plans on donating a white oak to Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Elementary School on Arbor Day, joining his parents in their annual donation of a tree to the school on the holiday.

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