By Jessica Mozo
Sure, you could stop by your nearest department store this holiday season and pick out a festive artificial Christmas tree, pre-lit with twinkling lights you don’t even have to fool with putting on. But if you want to make a memory that will last a lifetime – and support local agriculture while you’re at it – pack the family in the car and head for one of Tennessee’s numerous Christmas tree farms.
“Natural Christmas trees are completely recyclable and are close to home, waiting to be transported only from the farm to your living room, leaving a carbon footprint of just about nothing,” says Rob Beets, Tennessee Department of Agriculture horticulture marketing specialist.
A Tennessee family Christmas tradition
And just as important as helping the environment and local farms is experiencing the holiday tradition with your family.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to get out and do something fun with their parents,” says Jerry Martin, who opened a Montgomery County tree farm called Santa’s Place with his wife, Patti, seven years ago. “So many kids just stay indoors and play video games these days. We’ve tried to market our tree farm to families. We have photo opportunities that can be turned into Christmas cards and a children’s activity area with a balance beam, golf, a sand box and a corn box. We also have a fire pit where you can cook your own s’mores, and parents will sit around the pit with their kids and talk about how they used to roast s’mores as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.”
A retired high school teacher, Martin is spending his golden years learning the ins and outs of growing Christmas trees on five acres and helping people get back to the roots of the holiday season.
“I tell people I put 40 years in education to learn to grow trees,” he jokes.
Martin has become an evergreen expert, giving his seasonal customers a variety from which to choose. “We offer White Pine and Scotch Pine, and we’re introducing Leyland Cypress,” he says. “We also bring in pre-cut Fraser Fir trees from North Carolina. The White Pine is a light tree that shapes nicely and grows well in this region, while the Scotch Pine has stronger branches for holding heavy ornaments.”
Santa’s Place provides saws for customers to cut down their own tree, or they can cut it for you. After being cut, trees are shaken to eliminate loose needles, netted and loaded onto your vehicle. The farm typically sells around 400 trees in a season and welcomes about 1,200 visitors.
After choosing and cutting their tree, visitors can stop by the concession stand for hot chocolate or a caramel apple and shop for handmade wreaths and swags, tabletop trees, potted trees, ornaments, antiques and decorations in the farm’s gift shop.
“The tabletop trees and potted trees can be replanted after Christmas and are great for centerpieces or for people who don’t want to fuss with a big tree,” Martin says.
Nativity scenes are placed around the farm, Martin says, to provide a catalyst for family conversations about the true meaning of Christmas.
Another popular attraction at Santa’s Place happened by accident.
“We have a big pile of gravel kids love to climb on, so we started sticking lollipops in a hay bale at the top. We call it Lollipop Mountain, and kids can climb up, get a lollipop and climb back down,” Martin says. “People call us every year and ask if we still have Lollipop Mountain.”
Christmas tree farms growing in popularity
Choosing and cutting Christmas trees is a longstanding holiday tradition all across the state. “Tennessee has Christmas tree farms from one end of the state to the other,” says Beets. “Local tree growers depend on loyal customers, so they make sure you can’t wait to come back year after year for a great holiday experience.”
More than 30 tree farms are members of the Tennessee Christmas Tree Growers Association. Arcy Acres Christmas Tree Farm & Nursery in Crossville grows 15 acres of White Pine, Norway, White Spruce, Blue Spruce and Canaan Fir trees and offers pre-cut Fraser, Canaan and Concolor Firs. A large selection of balled-and-burlapped trees gives customers the option of replanting their tree after the holidays. Arcy Acres also offers a gift shop with free coffee, hot chocolate and spiced apple juice, and Santa makes an appearance the second Saturday of December each year.
In the southern West Tennessee town of Selmer, Duncan Christmas Tree Farm & Gift Shop grows 11 acres of Carolina Sapphire, Virginia Pine, Leyland Cypress and Blue Ice trees and offers pre-cut Fraser Firs. Duncan Farm also provides popular Christmas Tree Tours, which include a hayride through the tree fields, a wreath-making demonstration, stories at the log cabin, a nature trail, playground and use of the farm’s pavilion and picnic tables. Tree-buyers can have their trees, live wreaths and garland flocked at Duncan Farm for added beauty. The flocking process involves spraying the branches to make them appear snow-covered.
Find a farm in your area at the Tennessee Christmas Tree Farm Directory. Beets advises calling ahead to confirm hours of operation and activities.
Back at Santa’s Place, Martin says the best part of running a Christmas tree farm is continuing an old-fashioned tradition and meeting new people.
“As a kid we always had real trees, so I like following the traditions of my parents,” he says. “We enjoy meeting people in such a positive situation – many have come back every year we’ve been open. I’m known as the Christmas tree man all around our community.”
And that’s perfectly fine with him.
“Just as long as they don’t call me Santa Claus,” he says with a laugh.