Delight growing on Virginia Christmas tree farms
FLOYD, Va. — Delight is a major product of Virginia’s 500 plus Christmas tree farms.
Rifton Farms here near Pilot was a prime example on Dec. 2 as this emotion shone on the face of a very busy farmer, Robert O’Keefe and his customers who just kept coming.
O’Keefe and his trees are shining their delight across the state this month on the cover of Virginia Living.
The life-style publication features a decorated eight-foot Fraser fir nestled beside and outdoor hearth at a home in Hot Springs named Bearfoot.
The cover heralds an article by Valerie Hubbard titled “Mountain Magic” and is one of several pictures taken by Lincoln Barbour. The piece tells how the home built by Richmond interior designer Margaret Valentine and her husband E. Massie Valentine, Jr. came into being. It includes that the name is the result of sightings of mother bears and their cubs on the property.
Margaret Valentine turned to O’Keefe, a long-time friend of her father, the late Billy Izard who lived in Floyd County when she needed help decorating for a Christmas magazine story
“Robert brought the tree and equipment, even water,” she said in a telephone interview. “Robert is a wonderful man, a good friend of my dad who helped me in a pinch trying to decorate a house in September. I felt like my dad was taking care of me.”
She praised both O’Keefe’s customer service and his trees. He supplied her with an eight-foot Fraser fir and greens for the house.
While the magazine was available for visitors to view, the delight that comes with the selling of Christmas trees was evident on O’Keefe’s face as he skillfully piloted a Kubota RTV140 around his barns, greeting return customers and calling them by name. Their smiles and calls of greetings reflected their delight. O’Keefe and his staff were working rapidly to help people find the tree of their dreams and get them ready to take home.
One couple was very specific in the kind of tree they wanted. It had to be a big one they stressed. Eight or ten feet. The couple rode with O’Keefe over the farm, asking questions and looking. When they got to the big Frasers, they disembarked at O’Keefe’s suggestion and hiked over the hills looking for the perfect tree.
By the time the Christmas tree grower and a visitor had made another round of the farm to pick up more customers they were beckoning for him to come. At the top of the hill, nestled against another tree stood the tree they wanted.
The couple paused along the way to have their picture made at “The Picture Tree,” a big one O’Keefe has decorated for that purpose. It has proven to be a popular spot, he reported.
The customers watched as a machine was brought to lift their big tree from the ground and staff wound twine around its branches to make it easy to transport. As they watched they made plans to use a red and silver color scheme with white lights to decorate it. The wife said it would stand beside the fireplace in front of a big picture window.
A ride with O’Keefe was a demonstration of how farmers can tell their story in a way their customers can relate and better understand the industry.
He pointed to a young tree with the top broken out as an example of deer damage. He went on to discuss the difficulty deer cause him, noting that he had needed to replace half the seedling he had planted one year, an expensive planting.
He explained about the effects the heavy rains of 2018 have had on the industry, pointing to muddy tracks where his vehicles had made numerous trips and the grass that had not been mowed beside the plot with trees. He said rather than getting a second cutting of hay he would be bush hogging the field to groom it for the coming year.
On a brighter note, he said if the trees are not hydrated enough this year they never will be.
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