Cut and Choose your own adventure!

Cutting your own Christmas at a local farm offers a family activity that can become a tradition spanning decades.

by: Trevor Born

 

commissoned by: MerryStockings.com

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The debate has gone on for decades among families who want a Christmas tree in their living room: Do we go with a synthetic tree that can be used year after year with no additional cost and no upkeep needed? Or do we go with a real tree, which we'll need to water and pay for each year, but fills the halls with the classic Christmas aroma and adds more life – literally – to the home?

Both methods have enthusiastic followers and each has its pros and cons. But for the millions who choose a real tree, there is another question: How should we buy the tree?

Many buy a pre-cut tree at the retail stands that begin popping up in parking lots, fields, and big-box stores like the Home Depot after Thanksgiving. However, many other families choose to make the trip to a local Christmas tree farm, where they can choose from thousands of trees and chop it down themselves. To find a local tree farm, visit www.christmas-tree.com/real/.

These pick-your-own farms are a yearly tradition for millions of families across the country, and provide more than just a larger selection of trees. The farms offer a chance to spend hours or an entire day grazing rows of holiday-smelling pine trees, enjoy entertainment and Christmas decorations, eat and drink, and build a closer connection with the tree that will brighten the house in the weeks before and after Christmas.

“It's a chance to get out into nature and see what nature's creations are,” said Richard Moore, the president of the National Christmas Tree Association and the owner of Moore Tree Farm, a choose-and-cut farm in Groton, N.Y. “It's a chance for the youngest and oldest member of the family to have a chance in the decision making. We always had a real tree growing up, and I still have memories of that, the fragrance, that brings you so close to nature. Now we see that being re-lived every weekend we're open.”

Like the real vs. fake Christmas tree debate, many people who choose a live tree base their method of buying on what their family did growing up. Owners of choose-and-cut farms say their method offers a tradition that can span generations and bring families together for something every member can enjoy equally. 

“If you watch the families when you come here and notice the parents interacting with the children, you immediately see the value of the experience we offer,” said Steve Mannhard, owner of Fish River Trees in Summerdale, Ala. “It binds the families together and it binds the families with our culture, and it's something I think some families are missing. You can't get that by pulling the artificial tree out of the attic, or going down to the big-box store.”

 

Like many across the country, Mannhard's farm features a Santa Claus, a 40-person train that tours the farm, and a handful of reindeer. Lots of farms offer tractor-pulled hayrides, carolers, and other classic Christmas activities. Mannhard said he's considering building a manger scene.

Farms also usually have concession stands with snacks and hot drinks. Guests can often shop for other Christmas plant accessories, like wreaths, garlands, and mistletoe.

 

 

While farms usually offer tree cutting between Thanksgiving and Christmas, many are year-round operations with gift shops and opportunities to pick pumpkins, vegetables or berries in the off-season.

The prices of Christmas trees at choose-and-cut farms depend on the size and type of the tree, ranging from $20 to $100. Some farms will provide saws to cut and wagons to haul the trees. The farms will shake the tree for needles, cut it shorter if the customer has lower ceilings, and help tie it to the car.

“Selecting a tree is like any other kind of beauty: it's all in the eye of the beholder,” Moore said. “Some want a thin tree, others want a very robust tree. Some want short, others want tall. Giving people such a large selection means they'll probably find what strikes them as beautiful.”

The price also includes the entertainment at the farm, where families can stay as long as they desire.
Mannhard's operation has about 20,000 trees to choose from, and said some families will spend hours walking around the farm. Some will pack a lunch and spend the entire day.

“I think it's worth every dime a family spends when they come out to these farms, get out of the house, and spend time together,” Mannhard said. “Nowadays children don't get outside as much, and when they get here they run up and down the roads. It's the way the whole farming environment feels to them. I would've been the same way as a kid.”

Some choose-and-cut farms also double as a nursery for a new trend in Christmas trees: Live trees grown in a container that people can put in a pot during Christmas time and later plant in their yard. The trees don't shed or dry, don't need to be cut, and can teach kids to care for vegetation.  Southern farms where the classic Fir and Spruce trees don't grow may import and sell those trees for those who would rather have a Fir than cut their own.

Advocates for using real Christmas trees, whether purchased at Home Depot or cut on a local farm, say real trees help the environment by absorbing thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide per year. The industry helps farmers use land that can grow little else, and the trees break down in nature, unlike artificial trees made of PVC plastic.

But among real tree advocates, those who prefer the cut-and-choose method cite a less tangible value: A chance to get in the outdoors and strengthen family ties during the season that emphasizes them most.

“We've been in business since 1987, and now the kids we used to see are grown up and starting to bring their kids,” Moore said. “We're not selling a product. We're selling an experience.”