Virginia Christmas tree growers laud industry
WAYNESBORO, Va. — Leaders of the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association said they were pleasantly surprised when attendance to the group’s annual meeting here grew beyond expectations.
The Aug. 12-14 event brought the growers together in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Vice President John Carroll reported that as the date drew near, numbers grew from an expected 40 participants to about 60. Robert O’Keeffe, organizer of the Christmas tree and wreath making competitions, said the number of competitors in both contests were up from recent years.
The event ended with a visit to JES Tree Farm at Montebello where owner James “Eddie” Seaman who has been growing Christmas trees for more than 10 years.
Carroll and O’Keeffe, in separate telephone interviews, credited the success of the event to planning, including safety measures.
These measures included tables arranged to provide social distancing and fellowship at the same time, the way food was handled and how they were treated by the host hotel.
This association is interested in the expansion of Virginia’s farming industry and promotes it by growing and marketing quality trees.
This annual gathering gives industry members an opportunity to share and learn from those who provide them services.
As always, the highlight of Friday evening was the Scholarship Auction that helps raise money for the association’s scholarship program.
These scholarships are awarded annually to college students majoring in horticulture or forestry.
These are one way VCTGA supports research and education and strives to improve the numbers, quality and types of trees available to the fresh tree market.
The annual contests are a way to showcase this quality and types.
O’Keeffe, owner of Rifton Farm and Nursery, said John and Virginia Carroll, owners of Claybrooke Farm in Louisa County, showed the grand champion tree.
Ken Rhodes of Mountain View Farm displayed the grand champion wreath, winning with an undecorated entry.
These winners have the honor of presenting trees and wreaths to the governor at the Executive Mansion in Richmond.
The tree competition was divided into four categories: Fir, pine, spruce and other.
In the fir class, the Carrolls won first place.
John Houston of Sweet Providence Farm in Floyd County won second place and Robert McDowell of Hidden Fields Farm won third.
Carroll won first place in the spruce category and O’Keeffe’s won first in Other Class with an Eastern Red Cedar.
“Many of the younger and newer growers did not recognize the cedar or know that this was a common Christmas tree for many old farm families.” O’Keeffe, , said. “We still sell a few each year because that’s what some folks grew up with.”
Winners in the Undecorated Wreaths contest were Rhodes, first; Houston, second and Roberta Clouse, Clouse’s Pine Hill Farm, Winchester third.
Decorated Wreath wines were Houston, first; Clouse, second; and Cecille McDowell, Hidden Fields Farm, Covington, third.
The convention ended Saturday morning atop the Blue Ridge Mountain at Seaman’s JES Tree Farm, 10 acres where about 7,000 Fraser firs grow on the choose and cut operation.
“We provide the saw-you provide the elbow grease,” is the farm’s motto in its advertising.