A Growing Tradition

How buying fresh and local is good for Rhode Island Christmas tree growers

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Each year Carlos and Lorraine Miranda of Fall River, Massachusetts, cross the state line to Rhode Island on a quest to tag the family Christmas tree. The couple began this tradition, which now includes grown daughters Kelsey and Stephanie, early in their marriage. “We walk up and down the rows looking for our ‘perfect tree.’ It has to be around seven feet tall and just as round, very full. We bring bows with us to mark potential trees. After we find the tree, [it gets] tagged with our information and we head back to the office to pay and set our pick up date. The trip back is usually the hayride,” says Lorraine.

But just how are there enough trees each year for families like the Mirandas? It’s all about planning and planting, and you don’t exactly go into the business overnight. For every tree cut most farmers will plant at least two seedlings flanking the stump, and it can take up to fifteen years for a tree to reach the coveted retail size height of seven feet. “It’s a continuous cycle of planting and it takes longer than people realize,” says third-generation farmer Sarah Partyka of The Farmer’s Daughter in South Kingstown. “My father has a big love of Christmas trees and has been growing them for nearly fifty years,” she says of the business, which includes a cut your own plantation along with fields of pre-cut trees.
  
Dave Henry started growing Christmas trees at age twelve on his family’s farm as part of the Future Farmers of America program under the tutelage of John Leyden, of Big Leyden’s Tree Farm in West Greenwich. Since 1851, the Henry family has been working the land, first as a dairy farm run by his grandfather and later his father’s poultry farm. When Dave took over he figured Christmas tree farming could be a way to be outside but not be all-consuming like other crops. “You plant a first batch of trees, divide the land and keep planting until you get to the point where you’re marketing them, and rotate,” says Henry. “Trees are like people, they grow fast, tall and wide.” While some Christmas tree farms grow other crops during the year, Henry sells insurance.

Henry’s Tree Farm has become a famous spot for Instagrammers hoping to catch a glimpse at preppie entrepreneurs Kiel James Patrick and Sarah Vickers–better known by their brand KJP – who were married in a simple but elegant December ceremony at the property, documented on Vicker’s blog Classy Girls Wear Pearls. “The endless rows of evergreens make it such a magical place to bundle up and walk through on a chilly winter afternoon. We look forward to our time there every year,” wrote Vickers on her blog. Stunning snaps of the couple beneath a birch arbor adorned with roping, pine cones and flowers, and a backdrop of bushy green Christmas trees perfectly strung with bulb lights have been shared by national magazines including Glamour, House Beautiful, and Brides. Henry was honored to be part of the pair’s impromptu nuptials on his property; caught off-guard, he attended the ceremony in his “dirty old barn jacket.” While his farm is now Insta-famous, Henry insists it isn’t a wedding venue.

According to the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association (RICTGA), Christmas trees are a six-million-dollar business in Rhode Island. Top selling tannenbaums in the Ocean State are Balsam Fir, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir, Scotch Pine, Virginia Pine, and White Pin, but offerings vary by farm and can include types such as Canaan Fir. As a renewable resource, the RICTGA notes that the crop is an important part of the state’s agricultural industry.

“What I love the best is that we’re growing a sustainable renewable product and the joy we see. People supporting us and they’re getting a wonderful fresh product to take home that is local. Cut your own is great–it’s a family tradition, everyone comes out, even the dog,” says Partyka.

TOP TREE TIPS

TAGGING
Offered by some Christmas tree farms, tagging or pre-tagging is when you visit during fall and are led to the lot of living trees and can designate the one you wish to have cut down for you at a later time. Tagging season varies from farm to farm and can begin in October or November. The return visit happens after Thanksgiving. As excited as you are to bring your tree home, you don’t want to risk it drying out before Christmas Day.

BEFORE YOUR VISIT
Before visiting a farm, it is best to call ahead for details such as hours, are credit cards accepted, and are there public restrooms. Many farms are also on social media so check for recent updates and special activities, like hayrides or baked goods.

Some farms provide a bow saw for customers to cut trees themselves. If you’re up to the challenge, bring a pair of heavy-duty work gloves and goggles.

Consider bringing a blanket or plastic tarp along to protect the surface of your car’s roof. Also pack bungee cords, straps, and/or rope to secure the tree to your car’s rooftop.

Remember, you won’t have farmhands helping you to take the tree off of your car back at home –or lugging it up three flights of steps to your apartment – so be sure to enlist assistance from friends and neighbors ahead of time as needed.

AT THE FARM
You may want to ask for your fresh cut tree to be shaken to make sure you’re not bringing home a surprise pet, and request netting or baling, which is wrapping the tree for easier transport.

Chances are the farm will do this for you without asking but be sure an inch is cut off the bottom of any pre-cut tree or that a hole is drilled at the base, this will allow the tree to take up water again and prolong freshness. Just like fresh flowers, you want the tree to be placed in water as soon as possible, even a bucket while you prep the stand.

BACK AT HOME
While the vision of a Christmas tree beside a fireplace might make for a nice greeting card image, you’ll want to keep your tree clear of any heat source to prevent premature drying. Check water levels daily as trees can absorb up to a gallon of water each day. Unplug lights whenever you are away from the tree, whether asleep or out of the house.

When you are ready to clean-up from the holidays, your tree can be recycled into mulch. Check your town website or the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation's website to get the pickup date. Before leaving your tree on the curb, remove any ornaments, hooks, and tinsel from the tree.

Christmas Treesources
Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association
Farm Fresh RI