Cut-your-own-tree farms expected a busy start to the season after families wrapped up Thanksgiving meals.
Most Christmas Tree farms in the area opened for business Black Friday and expected to be out of trees by middle of December, if not sooner. Last year, with people eager to get outside during the pandemic, area farms saw “almost unprecedented” sales, said John Carroll with Claybrooke Farm in Louisa County.
“It was a busy year,” Carroll said in an interview last week. “With the pandemic, people wanted to get outside.”
In the week before Thanksgiving, Carroll was gearing up for a similar year, though the ongoing pandemic still poses some challenges along with the national tree shortage.
After the busy Thanksgiving weekend, Carroll and his family are taking tree to Richmond on Monday and present it to Gov. Ralph Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam. Claybrooke won a contest through the Virginia Christmas Tree Association with the prize of having a tree displayed at the Governor’s Mansion.
An 11-foot Fraser Fir and a 7-foot Fraser Fir will be placed on display at the mansion, according to a news release from Northam’s office.
John Ensor with Greene Meadows Farm in Greene County said he brought on more staff to help with the expected initial rush.
Ensor said in an interview last week that he tried recently to find more pre-cut trees to sell at his farm but came up empty, highlighting the tight supply this year.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t drive people to artificial trees because they can’t find real trees.”
Many of the farms provide saws for those cutting down trees as well as assistance with loading the tree onto vehicles.
Christmas Tree farms have faced supply issues for several years, which stems from a decision made about a decade ago to plant fewer trees, Ensor and others said. Trees take about seven to 10 years to grow and become worthy of ornamental display.
“I’m glad I have trees for folks; that’s what it’s all about,” Ensor said.
At Foxfire Farms in Scottsville, Betsy Samuels started selling trees the day before Thanksgiving. Similar to the others, she’s expecting another busy year and to be closed by Dec. 11 or 12, especially if she wants to have any trees to sell next year.
“Families are eager to get back to doing something that feels normal,” Samuels said in an interview last week.
Samuels has been selling trees since 1977 from her family’s 260-acre farm in Buckingham County, though not all of that acreage is for trees. In addition to trees, the Foxfire team makes more than 1,000 wreaths to sell.
Samuels said she had some white pine trees to sell from a neighboring farm, but customers will have mostly Douglas Firs to choose from and cut down.
This year, she planned to open up operations a little more this year after implementing a range of pandemic-related precautions last year.
Samuels said she enjoys seeing families who come out each year to get a tree, including some who have been regulars since the ’70s.
Ronald Brunk with Gladden Fields in Albemarle County opened for business the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and he expected to be open every weekend up to Christmas for people to stop by and cut down their own trees.
Gladden Fields didn’t open in 2020 or 2018 because the farm didn’t have enough trees. This year, Brunk said he had lots of trees and should have plenty for next year as well.
“We have twice as many as we did three years ago,” he said in an interview last week. “… It was a good growing season.”
Brunk said he’s not sure what to expect for this season since they were closed last year, but Gladden has a lot of Norway Spruces to go around.
In the week leading up to opening day, Brunk prepared the farm for visitors from the saws for the trees to the barrel stove for hand-warming.
At Claybrooke, people had to reservations in order to peruse the farm’s selection of Canaan Firs, white Spruces and other varieties along with pre-cut trees. All reservations are booked; the appointments opened in mid-October. Carroll said that system started last year in order to control the crowds and ensure a better experience. In 2019, they saw “tremendous crowds,” leading them to figure out a better system.
“We enjoyed it more,” Carroll said of the farm staff.
Claybrooke also sells trees from a lot in the town of Louisa, which Carroll says usually stays open later into December than the farm.
“I think it will be a pretty good year,” Carroll said. “We’re looking forward to seeing families and hoping for good weather, one of the things we can’t control.”
Carroll, whose family has grown Christmas Trees since 1984, said the season has started earlier and earlier over the years.
“I can remember not being open Thanksgiving weekend,” he said.
Now, that weekend is typically the busiest of the year for Claybrooke and other farms.
Over in Greene County, at Greene Meadows Farm, families could choose from white pines, Scotch pines and Canaan Firs, though selection of the latter three is very limited. The Ensors grow trees on eight of their 24 acres.
Ensor said he also secured a few more pre-cut trees than he received last year, which include Concolor, Fraser, Douglas and Canaan Firs. All those trees were cut the week before Thanksgiving. By Sunday, all 310 pre-cut trees were sold and they are a limited selection of trees to cut down. In an update online, Ensor suggested that people visit the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association website, virginiachristmastrees.org, to find a farm with trees.
Because of the pandemic, Ensor said no visitors were allowed inside the small sales shed, which houses holiday items along with jellies and jams that customers can buy along with hot chocolate and cider. That will continue this year.
Ensor said that a trip to Greene Meadows is about more than the trees. It’s about the experience.
That includes a trip out to the country, mountain views and seeing animals out in the pasture. Ensor said they have a mailbox that Santa Claus or his elves check weekly along with a sleigh that the man in red lent the farm.
“These things make it a real experience,” he said.