Dear Ace: I was out at Greene Meadows Tree Farm in Stanardsville, and I wondered, do the owners make enough money during the holidays to sustain them for the year?—Fraiser Firbank
Fraiser: Ah, the holiday season. There’s nothing Ace likes more than nonstop holiday music radioplay, unwrapping and rewrapping presents (to himself), and the yearly trip to find the perfect Atkins Family Christmas tree. But, you bring up a good point, Fraiser. Can families who own Christmas tree farms eke out a living for the whole year in just one month?
Ace called John Ensor, co-owner of Greene Meadows Farm, and shook the truth right out of him. "No way," John says. In fact, he calls the tree farm more of a "hobby" than a primary source of income. John actually works full time with the Department of Defense.
John says there are basically three types of tree farms: The "itty bitty" farms, like Greene Meadows (whose prices range from $16.99 to $39.99); the medium-sized farms like Glengary Tree Farm in Culpeper; and the big farms, like Joe’s Trees in Craig County (which is on the eastern border of Virginia, close to Roanoke). Joe’s, John says, spans more than 20 acres, whereas Greene Meadows only takes up about eight. The big farms, John told Ace, do accumulate a lot of their income during the holiday season. Joe’s Trees does especially well because it deals in both retail and wholesale, and ships the trees out of the area, thus expanding their market. Plus, the prices of their trees are slightly higher, starting at $25 and climbing all the way to $60.
Nevertheless, "most Christmas tree growers," according to the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, "do not rely on these sales as their sole source of income." In fact, most farm owners have jobs in completely unrelated fields. Like John, they simply have an interest in agriculture.
John says that he and his wife, Anne, have talked about expanding the farm after they retire to have a little extra income. Ace thinks that’s all well and good, but the more there is to choose from, the longer it takes Mother Atkins to make a selection. And take Ace’s word for it: A woman, a saw and some extra time on her hands does not a merry Christmas make. Though it does sound like the beginning of an interesting holiday riddle.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 18 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to email@example.com.