The first year the Carter family of Rineyville visited Creekside Christmas Tree Farm at Vine Grove in Hardin County, P.J. Carter was just old enough to help pick out the family Christmas tree. Ten years later, a trip to the tree farm is a Christmas-week tradition, and P.J., now 16 years old, does more than help choose the tree.
“He’s old enough to cut the tree under his father’s supervision. Now his younger brother, Joshua, who is 12, helps bring the tree out of the grove to the car,” says the boys’ mother, Judy Carter. “Afterward, especially if it’s really cold outside, we have hot cider before leaving the tree farm.”
The Carters established their tree-cutting tradition by accident, Carter says, when one year the family’s artificial tree “had so many parts missing it didn’t look like a Christmas tree anymore.” Now, the Carters are just one of hundreds of families across Kentucky—and nationwide—who head for the woods to find the centerpiece for their holiday festivities.
According to a survey conducted for the 1,500-member National Christmas Tree Association in Chesterfield, Missouri, more than 27 million natural holiday trees were purchased in the U.S. in 2004. And more than 27% of those fresh-cut trees were bought at what the association calls “choose and cut” farms, which are the number-one purchase location for natural Christmas trees. And that’s largely because a trip to the tree farm is rarely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
People who do not cut down their own trees want to go to the tree farm for the other events happening there during the season, for a holiday experience that becomes a tradition.
At Creekside, visitors are treated not only to hot cider, according to owner Doug Edelen, but help finding, cutting, and trekking their trees out of the 12 acres of tree groves. Like other Christmas tree farm operators, Creekside’s staff provides bow saws for cutting and carts for hauling the farm’s white pines and Norway spruce out of the groves and out to the car. In the 12 years Edelen and his wife, Joan, have operated the farm, hundreds of families have visited Creekside through the season that stretches this year from the day after Thanksgiving to December 18, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. For some, the trip is a traditional way to kick off the holiday season. For others, Edelen says, it’s a way to recapture hometown memories while living far away from home.
“We do have local families that come year after year,” Edelen says. “But a lot of our business also comes from members of the military at Fort Knox interested in doing something different and special for the holidays.”
Whether people visit U-cut farms for their holiday trees for the first or the 17th time, Herb Loyd, owner and manager of Hutton and Loyd Tree Farm in Plummer’s Landing, says his customers appreciate the chance to “connect” with what has become much more than a traditional holiday decorating tool.
“People have very definite ideas about what kind of Christmas trees they prefer,” says Loyd, who is also president of the Kentucky Christmas Tree Association, a nonprofit group that promotes the live Christmas tree industry statewide. “Some people want white pine, some want Fraser firs. It’s all a matter of taste.”
While Colorado blue spruce is an annual Carter family favorite, Tracy Young of Vine Grove says her tree of choice needn’t be of a specific variety. But it must exhibit specific attributes that transform a tree into a Christmas tree.
“It has to be full, not too tall, and have that wonderful Christmas tree smell,” says Young, who has been picking out her holiday tree at Creekside ever since she and her husband, Gary, were dating. These days, the annual tree farm visit is a family affair for Tracy, Gary, and their children, Isaac John, 4, and Emily, 2.
According to the Kentucky Christmas Tree Association, there are 11 varieties of trees most favored to become the center of holiday season attention. Balsam fir tops the list, followed by the Colorado blue spruce. Douglas fir, Norway spruce, and Scotch pine are also among the most preferred. And even though variety is a factor for many, even Christmas trees are not immune to changes in consumer taste.
“The popularity of certain trees changes according to trend,” says Herb Loyd, who has been studying consumer tree-buying habits for the better part of 20 years. “Scotch pines used to be extremely popular, but they don’t have that Christmas tree smell, and because they’re native to Europe they are tough to grow in the U.S. These days, people increasingly want Fraser firs, and are willing to pay a little more for them because tree retailers have to bring them in from North Carolina.”
But it’s not just the hunt for the perfect tree that draws people to Christmas tree farms during the holiday season. Spending a day, or even a few hours, among the pines is special, growers say—especially for urban and suburban parents eager to acquaint their children with the outdoors.
“People are looking for a way to connect to nature,” Herb Loyd says. “Lots of city kids don’t know where Christmas trees come from, and even kids who live in rural areas don’t often have a connection to their communities’ rural pasts.”
Recapturing the spirit of holidays past is a major reason Brad Williamson of Tollesboro says he, wife Mary, and daughter Autumn, 13, have been cutting their holiday tree at Hutton and Loyd since Autumn was a baby.
“It takes us back to our childhoods,” says Williamson. “I remember my grandmother used to take us up the hill to pick out and cut our Christmas tree every year. She’d make a big deal of it. Now, this is an event for us. We look forward to it every year.”
According to Brad, the Williamsons always try to pick a cold, snowy day to make the 45-minute trip to the tree farm. And, he says, getting there is part of their annual ritual.
“We take the back roads and we don’t hurry,” he says. “We drive and look at the trees and enjoy the trip. When we get there, sometimes we’ll stay until dark picking out the right tree, cutting it down, and enjoying the hot cocoa and the fire at the farmhouse.”
Many tree farms also offer an opportunity to purchase an array of holiday decorations from wreaths to pine cones, browse seasonal crafts and other gifts, and get in the holiday mood with a cup of hot chocolate or cider before a blazing hearth. In the process, some make new friends, or catch up on a year’s worth of news with acquaintances made over many years of annual visits.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie involved in doing this,” Herb Loyd says. “We see people who have never met each other standing in front of the fire talking and enjoying themselves; and we see people who have gotten to know each other over the years just by coming here at the same time during the holidays.“
According to the National Christmas Tree Association, interest in establishing or continuing a tradition of getting a farm-grown Christmas tree has been rising in recent years. Sales of farm-grown, fresh Christmas trees outsold the 9 million artificial Christmas trees purchased during the 2004 season by a 3-1 margin.
Even people who do not cut their own trees go to a tree farm for the holiday, as a ritual. It’s a family experience and tradition.
Judy Carter already knows that. Although her sons are old enough to have other interests, she says there’s no argument about making the annual Christmas tree cutting trip.
“The only argument happens when it’s time to haul the tree back to the car, because that’s hard work,” Carter jokes. “Our boys grew up with this. Any time you can do something as a family, it’s special. Doing this together makes the Christmas tree—and the season—more memorable.”
CHRISTMAS TREE FARMS
Check out these spots for making holiday memories. Call farms for dates and events, and visit the Kentucky Christmas Tree Association Web site at www.kychristmastrees.com for links to Christmas tree farm locations.
Big Spring Tree Farm, 683 Blankenship Rd., Adolphus, (270) 622-5594 or (615) 385-9053
Triple “F” Farm, 1260 Love Ridge Rd., Chaplin, (502) 673-3658
Dean’s Christmas Tree Farm, 2450 Old Sand Rd., Owingsville, (606) 674-8833
Ferguson Tree Farm, 10515 US 42, Union, (859) 384-1547
Burlington Tree Farm, 8289 Kelly Rd., Burlington, (859) 586-8265
Rocky Top Tree Farm, Hc88, Box 148 Hwy. 401, Hudson, (270) 257-2777
Becker Tree Farm, 8404 Laverne Dr., Louisville, (502) 499-1417
Werkmeister’s U Cut, 966 Clarks Lane, Shepherdsville, (502) 543-6084
Tug Fork Tree Farm, 3395 Upper Tug Fork Rd., Alexandria, (859) 635-7826
Evergreen Junction, 4851 Shaw Hess Rd., Alexandria, (859) 635-9941
Rocky Top, 944 Griffith Ridge, Liberty, (606) 252-6557
Kovalic Christmas Tree Farm, 487 Ecton Rd., Winchester, (859) 744-2930
Mayer’s Evergreen Forest, 4236 McClure Rd, Winchester, (859) 744-3879
Yuletide Tree Farm & Nursery, 51 Skylark Dr., Winchester, (859) 744-9068
Hilltop Tree Farm, 1635-B Triplett St., Owensboro, (270) 686-7249
Sundance Farm, 700 Parvin Rd., Irvine, (606) 723-1042
Barker’s Tree Farm, 1470 Deerhaven Lane, Lexington, (859) 223-4354
Christmas Memories Tree Farm, 4890 Keene Rd., Hwy. 1267, Lexington, (859) 223-1140
Walt Wick Farm, 7201 Old Richmond Rd., Lexington, (859) 263-1815
Hutton and Loyd Tree Farm, P.O. Box 24, Plummer’s Landing, (606) 876-3423
Brooks Hill Farm, 1131 Johnson Rd., Frankfort, (606) 271-8400
Taylor Tree Farm, 1196 Nineveh Rd., Frankfort, (502) 223-2692
Creekside Christmas Tree Farm, 390 Brown’s Lane, Vine Grove, (270) 877-5552
Jolly S Christmas Tree Farm, 4512 Springdale Rd., Louisville, (502) 426-6264
Wethington Nursery, 1047 Easum Rd., Louisville, (502) 267-5119
Hawn Gap Tree Farm, 176 Hawn Branch Rd., Bimble, (606) 546-5766
Gilland Tree Farm, Rte. 373, Eddyville, (270) 388-2035
Baldwin Farms, P.O. Box 907, Richmond, (859) 623-8483
Soldier Creek Road Bee and Tree Farm, 859 Soldier Creek Rd., Kirksey, (270) 527-9606
Ditto Tree Farm, 190 Ditto Road, Ekron, (270) 828-5258
Stout’s Christmas Trees, 125 Twin Lakes Dr., Ekron, (502) 828-2966
Alpine Ridge Christmas Tree Farm, 2600 Massey School Rd., LaGrange, (502) 933-1755
Pine Ridge Christmas Trees, 3701 Valley Creek Dr., LaGrange, (502) 386-2336
Pennington Pines, 660 Pennington Lane, Owenton, (317) 254-9767
Robinson’s Christmas Trees, 1816 Woodlake Rd., Stamping Ground, (502) 535-6147
Meadowlark Christmas Tree Farm, 5950 Buck Creek Rd., Finchville, (502) 834-7822
Mulberry Pond Tree Farm, 4051 Mt. Eden Rd., Shelbyville, (502) 633-9897
Schmitz Grove Christmas Tree Farm, 794 CW Moore Rd., Smith’s Grove, (270) 563-9052
Wethington’s Tree Farm (living, rooted trees only, open during Christmas season by appointment), 330 Louie Meeks Rd., Oakland, (270) 563-2090
Pine Ridge Christmas Tree Farm, Campton, (606) 668-3937
For information about local favorite holiday trees, fun facts, and connections to Kentucky Christmas tree growers, visit the Kentucky Christmas Tree Association online at www.kychristmastrees.com.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: CARING FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE
For information on how to care for your fresh-cut or living Christmas tree, click here: Christmas tree care