A real tree takes real work
The Christmas tree business is not a get-rich-quick kind of industry. Once a seedling is planted, it takes about eight years of growth before the tree can fulfill its Christmas destiny.
Tom Sawyer, owner of Tom Sawyer Christmas Tree Farm in Glenville, said being a tree farmer is not just a two-month business affair.
“I’m a CPA in real life but for some reason I thought it would be a smart idea to have a business with 12 months of expenses and only one month of revenue,” he joked.
Tom said the story of how he and his wife Myra Sawyer got into Christmas tree farming is a funny one. They were up from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, visiting their vacation home in Cashiers for Christmas and attended a New Year’s party at a neighbor’s house. When a gentleman at the party pulled out a big mason jar with a familiar clear liquid, he was happy to partake. Perhaps he went a little overboard with the holiday spirit, because he woke up the next morning with no memory of the moonshine festivities.
“The next day when Myra woke me up, she said, ‘Do you realize what you did last night?’” he laughed.
Apparently he made quick friends with another man at the party who convinced him to go into the Christmas tree business with him. Shortly after that he bought 80 acres in Glenville and started growing Fraser firs — that was 27 years ago.
“When we bought the property we started planting 5,000 trees a year, and after eight years we finally had a crop to sell,” Tom said.
He continues to plant 5,000 trees each year to keep up with demand. The farm sells between 3,000 to 4,000 trees each year. The farm also sells trees wholesale to other suppliers and has a location where they are sold in Chattanooga, but the choose and cut on the farm is still the most popular choice.
At the height of the season — around Thanksgiving — Sawyer is able to employ 60 people at the farm, which he said is a huge benefit to the area. When the tourism season ends in Glenville and Cashiers at the end of October, so do the jobs.
“So we’re able to stretch the season out a little longer for people needing work,” he said.
In 1984, the first Fraser fir Christmas trees were planted at Boyd Mountain Farm off of Jonathan Creek Road in Waynesville, and seven years later that first crop was harvested. However, the farm property has been in the family for more than 100 years.
Our Choose N Cut began in 1999. Some of the trees there are now 25 years old. With more than 100 acres of trees, planting, fertilizing, trimming and other maintenance is a fulltime job that takes several people.
Brian and Gina Boyd own their own Christmas Tree farm just up the road from Boyd Mountain, WNC Christmas Trees. Throughout the year, Brian does landscaping and irrigation work, but he started planting Christmas trees about 11 years ago on his property to supplement his income during the winter months.
“The landscaping business slows down in November, so this allows us to work through the winter and keeps my guys busy,” he said.
He uses 10 acres to plant about 2,000 Fraser firs each year along with other trees used for his landscaping business, including dogwoods and hemlocks. He occasionally has to hire a few more employees in the winter to help with the choose and cut on the farm and to get the wholesale orders ready in October to ship out to Tennessee and other states.
“It takes a lot of manpower,” he said.
Don and Jan Nesbitt, owners of Nesbitt’s Christmas Tree Farm in Clyde, have been in the business for 45 years. While the business has gradually grown throughout the years, Don said it’s still a small operation compared to others in the area. With Don doing most of the planting, upkeep and cutting himself, he said 8 acres of trees was about all he could handle.
“Our property was originally an old apple orchard so we were looking for way to utilize the land,” he said. “We did pretty well so it grew a little larger. A lot of work has to go into it each year.”
Having a farm is never a 9-to-5 job, whether you’re growing vegetables or Christmas trees. Sawyer said you have to love the work to be able to keep it going year after year.
“I tell people all the time, it’s not a job or a profession — it’s a lifestyle of being a farmer,” he said.