Three Tennessee Christmas Tree Farms Adding Meaning to the Holidays
Nothing awakens the senses, and the holiday spirit, quite like the crisp, refreshing aroma of a real Christmas tree. Now that the season is here, farmers across Tennessee are opening their gates to families who want to pick and cut their own.
When the owner of a small Christmas tree farm in the next town announced plans to go out of business, says Houston Goodrum, “My grandfather said, ‘What the heck. I’ll try it.’”
After learning all he could from his tree-growing mentors, in 1992 McNairy County Farm Bureau member Charlie Duncan planted 300 white pines on 3 acres in Selmer and harvested the first ones six years later. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Duncan Christmas Tree Farm is a popular choose-and-cut operation, with Goodrum and his wife Jessica overseeing it all, his father Chris driving hayride tractors during the holiday season and his grandfather Charlie passing along the advice he’s gleaned over the years.
Arriving at the 20-acre farm, customers are greeted by a sea of trees in stands as traditional Christmas music wafts from the gift shop. Inside, they browse handmade ornaments to take home, or hang out on the front porch, drinking free hot chocolate, spiced cider and coffee. Outside, next to the store, Goodrum’s cousins busily bundle evergreen branches for wreaths and garland.
In the field, shoppers select their trees – Virginia pines, plus Carolina Sapphire, Blue Ice and Leyland cypresses – and cut them with a bow saw or enlist the aid of the Duncans. (The blue-green Fraser firs come from cooler East Tennessee.) Some folks then head for the barn to watch as their trees are dampened and sprayed with powder flocking that resembles snow.
“It really gets you in the Christmas spirit to see families come out,” Goodrum says. “Kids get real excited about picking out their Christmas tree. That’s really what’s kept us going: for the community.”
Montgomery County Farm Bureau member Gary Hamm grew up on Long Island, New York, and the Florida gulf coast, but fell in love with the rural Southeastern countryside while stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as a young soldier. In 1991, he and his wife Linda purchased a sprawling farm in Cunningham where they could practice forestry and grow shiitake mushrooms and Christmas trees, and named it in memory of their oldest daughter Erin.
The first year, they hand-planted about 400 Scotch and Eastern white pines. Only half survived. “But I kept getting better at it, and now we have about 6 acres of Christmas trees,” Hamm says. “And we’re expanding our operation for another 2 acres.”
These days, Erin’s Farm also offers dense Virginia pines – perhaps the most popular Christmas tree in the South – as well as precut Fraser firs acquired from a grower in East Tennessee. Most people prefer to choose and cut their own, but a few are looking for the ball-and-burlap type to plant in their yards. The Hamms also grow blueberries in summer and operate a glass workshop and artist gift shop.
They’ve watched their clientele grow over the years – literally. “Twenty years ago, the kids that were being swaddled by their mother in a little carry basket are now working for us,” Hamm says.
“What we offer is a family atmosphere,” he adds. “They get free hot chocolate and free hayrides, and that’s all day long. And they just have a blast. Neighbors are meeting neighbors … and then they huddle around a fire. What can bother you when you’re standing around a warm fire, you’ve got this beautiful view looking off in the distance, surrounded by trees, and you can’t hear any vehicles?”
During high school in the 1970s, Monroe County Farm Bureau member Fred Camp worked summers at a Christmas tree farm, then later managed the place for a decade. In the mid-1980s, he planted a few trees of his own at his grandfather’s farm before moving Camp’s Christmas Forest to its current Sweetwater location in 1990.
“Christmas trees fit in pretty well for a teacher. You’re off in the summer, and that is the most labor-intensive time when you have to trim the trees and mow the grass,” says Camp, who grew up on a tobacco farm and recently retired from a career as a chemistry instructor. He and his wife, Linda, now tend about 10,000 white, Scotch and Virginia pines; Norway and white spruces; Canaan and Douglas firs; and Leyland, Arizona, Carolina Sapphire and Murray cypresses.
Like the Duncan and Hamm families, Camp sees a lot of repeat customers who come here to chop down their own. (Customers can also dig trees for replanting, but they have to do the work.) His grown children and grandchildren help out on the farm.
“The Millennials are starting to come around now with real Christmas trees, because they are recyclable. The plastic trees, of course, are made out of oil,” he says. “And I heard somebody say one time, ‘Who buys plastic roses for Valentine’s Day?’ ”
If You Go...
All three farms are open from Nov. 23 until Christmas.
Duncan Christmas Tree Farm
186 Hester Rd. in Selmer
Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.
7000 Hodges Rd. in Cunningham
Friday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Camp’s Christmas Forest
415 Kile Rd. in Sweetwater
Nov. 23 from 2 to 5 p.m., and then Saturdays noon to 5 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. Check website for new weekday hours.