The popular holiday song “We Need a Little Christmas” sums it up for many people this year. Nine months into the pandemic, families are ready to embrace the simple pleasures of the season, such as visiting a local farm to choose or cut a Christmas tree.
“I think people are grateful to do things in the outdoors that make them feel safe, feel normal, and are fun,” said Beverly Westerveld, owner of Tree-Berry Farm in Scituate that offers cut-your-own and precut trees. “We saw this during our pick-your-own blueberry season. I expect visiting a farm for a Christmas tree will be a very popular activity this year.”
“We offer Christmas trees, but I think most of all we offer a chance to smile,” said Matthew Krugger,, owner of Mistletoe Acres Tree Farm in East Bridgewater. “It isn’t just about cutting down a tree; people make a day of it. It becomes a family excursion. Our customers come from Greater Boston, the Cape, and even north of Boston.”
“There are very few Christmas tree farms near Boston any more,” said Mike Casto, who manages Houde’s Christmas Tree Farm in Marlborough with his wife, Sheila. “We get people from Boston that rent a Zipcar and come out to get a tree.”
“The season starts right after Thanksgiving,” said Dave Morin, owner of Arrowhead Acres in Uxbridge and past president of the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association. “Our 110 members have been gearing up for the busy season, all the while implementing COVID-19 safety rules.”
“Usually weather is the unknown factor,” said Casto of Houde’s Farm. “This year COVID is a factor too. We think people will come, but with the number of cases climbing, we just don’t know.”
In the midst of a pandemic, the tree farmers are monitoring infection rates, staying up-to-date on all state regulations, and adapting as necessary.
“We always have a greeter at the farm,” said Morin. “This year the greeter will go over the safety guidelines. Our snack bar will be open, but we have eliminated some options, and everything will be prepackaged.”
Houde’s Farm has traditionally offered customers hot chocolate and candy canes, but Sheila Casto does not believe they will be able to do that safely this year.
Smolak Farms in North Andover has planned an array of holiday activities with safety and social distancing in mind.
“The pandemic has become the mother of invention. We are offering experiences that require reservations including hay rides and gingerbread workshops,” said Michael Smolak, its owner/manager. “The New England Saint Bernard Club will be here on Sunday, Dec. 6. That day, families can cut their own tree or choose a pre-cut tree, we place the tree on a sulky or small cart, then these lovable and gentle working dogs pull it to your car. It is an unforgettable experience that makes for great photos.”
“We see adults that came here as kids that now bring their own kids,” said Morin. “It is a memorable time. We encourage families to take pictures.”
Sharing the agricultural experience with customers is important for the Christmas tree farmers.
“Farms preserve open space,” said Westerveld of Scituate’s Tree-Berry Farm, who has been farming for 40 years. “They support wildlife and prevent soil erosion.”
“Live Christmas trees are biodegradable and recyclable,” added Morin. “It takes 8 to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree, and we are continually replanting.”
The cost of a live tree varies. At Arrowhead Acres, any tree costs $70. Some farms charge by height, generally in the range of $8 to $10 a foot.
“There is always a limited number of trees available,” cautioned Smolak. “This year we are expecting a great demand for cut-your-own trees. To avoid disappointment, people need to visit early in the season. They should also plan and prepare for the visit. You will be outdoors, so dress appropriately. The experience is a lot more fun if you are dressed for it.”
Westerveld stressed that “the terrain is uneven and customers should wear good sturdy shoes. And remember that the sun goes down early at this time of year. We may be open for precut trees until 5, but we stop cutting trees when it gets dark.”
Krugger of Mistletoe Farm hopes people look into what type of tree they want because “different trees have different characteristics. A Fraser fir will be more fragrant, but a balsam will have better needle retention.”
“Know your height limit. Trees always look smaller under the sky,” advised Morin.
Despite the hard work, short season, and unknowns, Krugger takes solace in the joy his farm brings to people. “No matter what their week has been like,’' he said, “when people step onto the Christmas tree farm, they are instantly happy.”
Linda Greenstein can be reached at email@example.com.
OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS:
Houde’s Christmas Tree Farm, Marlborough
Mistletoe Acres Tree Farm, East Bridgewater
Smolak Farms, North Andover
Tree-Berry Farm, Scituate
Arrowhead Acres, Uxbridge
Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association