Christmas tree farms expecting strong season from pent-up families

  • FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, Tommy Lawson looks out into rows of Christmas trees as his family browses for their tree at the John T Nieman Nursery in Hamilton, Ohio. For many people, it's hard not to think about the upcoming holidays already. Some folks are holding early Christmas celebrations so they can be with elderly parents outdoors while the weather still allows it. As the holidays approach, the pandemic is forcing people to come up with creative ways to celebrate. Experts say rituals have always been with us and there has always been room for improvisation. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

  • Customers at Cranston's Christmas Tree farm in Ashfield walk through one of the fields with their cart Sunday, December 10, 2016.

  • B.J. Lanigan carries an 8-foot Christmas tree at Arnie's Place on Friday, December 6, 2019. The place on Loudon Road has been selling trees and wreathes since the day after Thanksgiving and they hope to sell the rest of the 750 trees by this Sunday. They have 250 left from four to fourteen feet tall.

Concord Monitor
Published: 11/26/2020 7:23:37 PM
Modified: 11/26/2020 7:23:30 PM

PEMBROKE, N.H. — Susan Seidner is making one major change to her Christmas tree operation this year. She’s no longer selling cookies.

Seidner’s family’s Pembroke, N.H., farm, Donaghey Christmas Tree Farm, is doing away with the annual tradition in the time of COVID-19. This year, they’ll be transitioning to candy canes.

Other than that, though, the business will largely stay the same. Masks and hand sanitizer aside, the customers will show up, they’ll grab their saws, and they’ll head out to get their trees.

And this season, Seidner says, business could be better than ever.

“We open Saturday the 28th,” she said. “But we have been getting so many calls from people who want to cut now.”

After months of pandemic-driven uncertainty and angst, and amid a rising surge of cases that could prompt a long, home-ridden winter, Christmas tree farmers say interest appears particularly high.

Phones have been ringing constantly. Commercial orders have been flying. And the relatively condensed season — driven by a late Thanksgiving — means demand is likely to be especially acute.

“I think what it is is there are very few activities for families,” Seidner said. “And our activity is outside. And it’s very safe.”

Lane Bockius was feeling the coming rush. Her Hopkinton, N.H., farm, Crow Valley Farm, has also had “a tremendous amount of people calling” ahead of their opening day. “I’m assuming that people are just really enthusiastic about decorating,” she said.

And Jim Horst, the executive director of the New Hampshire Vermont Christmas Tree Association, says it’s a regionwide trend.

“I think people are dying to get some relief,” said Horst, who owns a Christmas tree farm in Bennington, Vt.

The pandemic has brought about a surge in appreciation for nature, from hiking trails to pond walks, Horst said. That enthusiasm will likely spill over into the tree business, he predicted.

Beyond the cut-your-own sales, Horst said the wholesale market has been “exceptionally strong,” with large orders from retailers selling the trees themselves.

Those purchases, which tend to be from bigger tree farms, are just wrapping up now, giving the rest of the industry a glimpse at what should be a strong season.

Along with high demand comes a tightening supply, Horst said. Eight or nine years ago tree growers were left with a surplus of trees, he said, causing many across both states to reduce the number of trees they planted to compensate. Now that crop is grown up, and it may mean that there are fewer this year than usual.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t enough trees for everybody, Horst quickly added, just that some might be a little harder to find.

The positive outlook doesn’t negate the effects of the pandemic, though.

Several weeks ago, the Christmas Tree Association put on a conference to go over approaches to COVID-19. This weekend, as farms open to the post-Thanksgiving rush, most will be following the requisite health guidelines: hand sanitizer at entrances, masks indoors and disinfecting saws after use.

The Hopkinton storefront for Crow Valley Farm is already outfitted with plexiglass and sanitizer, Bockius said.

At Seidner’s Pembroke farm, one tradition will endure: the post-sales family dinners. A reminder, she said, that the 2020 Christmas season can still produce glimmers of joy.

“It’s the happiest people,” she said. “It’s a business where everyone is happy. How lucky can you be?”

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