O Estado de Sao Paulo - Dec-21-2008

"The Christmas Tree Doctor"
By Edison Veiga , O Estado de S. Paulo

William da Conceição Hering
60 Years of Pine Tree Cultivation
on the Bororé Peninsula
 While walking along the trails of his 354 acre farm on the Bororé Peninsula - 25 Km from downtown Sao Paulo, 74-year-old Edwin William da Conceição Hering always keeps a machete close at hand.
 On encountering a Christmas tree in need of pruning, unable to resist, does the work himself. “I visited Christmas-tree-farms in the United States, Canada, Denmark, England, and Germany, learning the best techniques behind the perfect 

Christmas tree, ” he recounts. “I taught my employees myself.”

Hering, or Doctor William - as he is known, speaks five languages and has degrees from two universities (one in Economics, from the Pontificate Catholic University (PUC) and one in Law from the University of São Paulo (USP). Yet, his true specialty is the Christmas-tree-culture, those decorated wonders that bring so much joy during the Holiday season.                                           BACK

It all began in 1942, as his father Hans Wolfgang Hering, a German national and retired exclusive representant in Brazil for Maytag washing machines, bought a stretch of land on Bororé Peninsula,decided to plant eucalyptus for logs and firewood as well as conifers for Christmas trees.

It was not long before the family’s home in Jardim Europa became a busy commercial hub in the latter half of each year. “People would line up out front,” recalls.

"I then started leasing lands in the "Jardins"-area, in order to market our Christmas trees.” The business thrived and the client list grew over time. So much so, in fact, that Doctor William never actually practiced law. “From early on, I helped to manage the farm and the family's properties.”

The 1929 Depression had a major influence on Doctor William’s family history, both on his father’s and mother’s side.

“My father arrived in Brazil shortly beforehand, on the advice of my grandfather, who told him it was time to start anew in another country,” he explains. For her part, his mother, descended from a colonial-era family, was the daughter of the Count of Serra Negra, a successful coffee producer owning 25 plantations prior to the depression. “Following the crash, the countess,managed to save only one, the smallest farm (60 thousand acres), in Botucatu - S.Paulo State,” he says.

It was on the Botucatu farm that William spent most of his vacations as a boy. “I wanted to become a farmer,” he recalls. The dream would come true many Christmases later.

William was born on Turiaçu Street - Perdizes-SP, where he spent his childhood playing in the "Agua Branca"- Park nextdoors. Later he attended Visconde de Porto Seguro School - or "Deutsche Schule", as it was known at that time - and afterwards the Marista Arquidiocesano School. In 1942, his father purchased a home for his family on Rua França, in the Jardim Europa neighborhood. "I never left," he says, there he lives now with his second wife.                                             BACK        

In William’s home, Christmas was always a solemn occasion. “My parents decorated the Christmas tree in the living room, where it remained under lock and key. We would gather in the dining room and only after supper the bell was rung and we were allowed to enter to view the decorations, the lighted wax candles, and presents.” His most vivid memory is of the 24’’ Raleigh-bicycle he got in 1943 with a red ribbon on it .

It was on that bicycle that William made his regular trek to the stables on Mourato Coelho Street -Vila Madalena, where his father’s horses were kept. “I used to ride around that whole area. There were only dirt roads and wilderness,” he says.

Doctor William keeps a tight rein on the Castanheiras farm. He receives daily reports by fax on the daily activities of his 25 employees. When making his rounds of the farm, generally once a week, William is generous with his praise and exacting in his criticisms. He also demands the highest quality of his Christmas trees. “Of every 1,000 trees planted, fewer than 100 are cut down,” he notes, while pointing out that only the very best trees receive a label of approval for sale. A 3 meter (10 ft.) tree can cost up to R$900.00.

William is at ease on the farm - wears jeans and sneakers and reveals a surprising spring in his step, when jumping from a tractor, and in his interactions with the "sagui" monkeys which he attracts with a whistle. On the other hand, at his downtown office on Xavier de Toledo Street, from where he manages the farm and nearly 40 urban properties, the atmosphere is more austere. William wears a suit and adopts quite a formal, reflective air. From the sofa in the outer hall, a blue signboard can be seen hanging on the wall, which reads: "Kindly await in the anteroom." Photographs of William’s rural property dot the walls of the waiting room. On the farm as well as in his office, coffee is served in cups decorated with pine trees.

Doctor William has gradually reduced the size of his conifer plantation. “Within 30 years, I intend have the native vegetation covering 40% of the farm,” he says. “I erected a wall around the entire property, because people would sneak in to steal heart of palm and hunt. I expect to leave a preserved area for posterity.”                                                                                   BACK

This ecological consciousness is reflected in Doctor William’s day-to-day habits. The office staff in his building know him for a particular 'eccentricity': he doesn’t use elevators. Instead, he climbs and descends the 12 stories to and from his office every day. “Since 1991, I’ve only used stairs. Elevators demand much electricity,” he argues.

William’s trees can be found at the convenience store of a gas station located next to the Cidade Jardim Bridge. The site once housed a flower market, where his trees were sold. The gas station is one of the properties he leases. The tallest pine tree he has cut down to date measured 16 meters (52 ft.). It was used in "Anhembi"-Park, in 1982, to decorate an event of the Association of Parents and Friends of Exceptional Children ("Associação de Pais e Amigos dos Excepcionais" - Apae).

Doctor William preserves his family’s ageless Holiday traditions. Visitors to his home in December are sure to taste a “Christmas Cookie,” a custom extending down through the generations of William’s family, Germans of Scottish descent. Indeed, tasting one of his cookies is to savor the joy of Christmas.

Christmas Cookies

BRAUNEKUCHEN - Marian Robertson Hering                                                                            BACK

1 kg. all-purpose flour
500 gr. molasses
125 gr. sugar
125 gr. sweet almonds
100 gr. crystallized orange peels
100 gr. cider
10 gr. cardamom purchase: [(20 gr.) = 2 x 10 gr. packages]
10 gr. clove
10 gr. cinnamon
30 gr. potassium purchase: [(60 gr.) = 2 x 30 gr. packages]
125 gr. lard
150 gr. butter
Half a teaspoon of baking soda
Purchase: [(1 package) (small quantity )]

Heat, without cooking, the molasses, butter, and lard. Add finely diced almonds.
Dissolve the potassium in warm water with a dab of salt.
Add half of the all-purpose flour, mixing well. Place dough in a warm location until the following day.
On the following day, mix the dough again and add the remaining all-purpose flour.
Roll the dough out very thin and place it in a hot oven.
Observation: the dough may be used over several days.                                           BACK