A pre-Thanksgiving surprise awaited Va. Christmas tree growers
Virginia’s Christmas tree industry got an unexpected reason for thanksgiving even before the turkey was on the table.
Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally the informal opening of choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms across the state. But increased demand has changed that as some growers report opening for business one and even two weekends before Thanksgiving this year.
The Christmas tree-buying experience is different this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Across the board tree farmers are trying to follow government regulations and adhere to guidelines set forth by their own organizations.
The result is that several different approaches are being used to meet the same goal: A safe and happy experience for all and a profitable year for the farm.
“It’s gotten an early start,” said John Carroll, vice president of the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association. “It’s ramped up this year.”
Carroll and his wife Virginia are partners with their children in their Claybrooke Farm in Louisa County.
Across the state in Montgomery and Floyd counties, growers agreed. Robert O’Keefe at Rifton Tree Farm in Pilot, Va., said he had calls from all over and at least 25 people visited the weekend before Thanksgiving wanting trees.
“So far, it’s been pretty good,” John Houston of Sweet Providence Tree Farm near Floyd, said. “I’ve been surprised by how many people want to get trees. Last week was probably our busiest pre-Thanksgiving weekend.”
One veteran grower, Billy Cornett at Reed Island Christmas tree Farm in Carroll County, Va., reported business as usual. He said he it is exactly the same as last year. He said 90 percent of his choose and cut trees are sold after Thanksgiving. Like the other growers, he said he is following the COVID restrictions and requiring masks and social distancing.
Virginia Farm Bureau reported the trend is continuing in the southwestern part of the state where Anne and Eddie Blevins have a tree farm in Washington County.
Eddie Blevins told Farm Bureau he started getting inquiries about trees before Halloween. He attributed this to the pandemic with people at home more.
“They just want something different to do, like setting up their trees and decorating,” he said.
Carroll said his young adult children began realizing they needed to do something different with pandemic restrictions in place. Carroll said they have usually had large crowds at the farm and were wondering how they would be able to meet the requirements for this.
Their solution was to close the farm completely to customers and go online. They let people choose their tree online and the Carrolls cut it. The buyer makes an appointment to come to the farm to get their tree at the gate.
This has solved the issue of social distancing for the farm.
At Rifton Tree Farm, O’Keefe said he has spent between $800 and $1,000 on hand sanitizing stations, plexiglass and masks to give his customers the real experience of choosing and cutting their own trees while being safe.
He has placed plexiglass barriers between the front and back seats of his “Bota Buggies,” the Kubota utility vehicles he uses to transport customers around the farm and bring in their trees.
Those boarding the vehicles are asked to used the hands-free hand sanitizing stations before getting on them. The barrier is wiped down between each family.
O’Keefe said he has been surprised that families are arriving at the farm and getting out of their vehicles with their masks on. He has a clothes line with masks on them available for those who do not bring one. He added he was pleased that no one had objected to his new safety measures.
“It’s going to be a big year,” he said. “People are cooped up. They want to get out. They have heard about all the precautions we will take. We seem to be ahead of the game. We have sold more than in the last few years before Thanksgiving.”
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