On fall weekends in Boone, nearly every other car driving through town has a Christmas tree strapped to its roof. People come from as far away as Florida to choose and cut their own trees at the three dozen Christmas tree farms in Watauga County.
“One day I sat at the corner of one of the busy intersections in town with a clicker and counted 190 trees on tops of cars in 30 minutes,” said Jim Hamilton, N.C. Cooperative Extension director for the county. “Lots of folks come up here for trees.”
Picking your own Christmas tree is a delightful tradition for many families in the area. And it’s an easy one to establish if you haven’t already; all it takes is a spirit of fun and adventure. There’s certainly plenty of opportunity—there are more than 70 choose-and-cut tree farms in the mountains. Fraser firs, the Cadillac of Christmas trees, grow so well at mountain elevations that North Carolina is the nation’s second-leading producer of Christmas trees.
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]rowing trees for people to pick is the most popular segment of the industry right now. And nothing could be more fun. Time seems to slow down on a tree farm. The air is fresher. The family is happier. The world is far away. It seems as if every day is Christmas Day on a Christmas tree farm.
Farmers invite you to spend as much time as you like. Many of the farms, scattered along the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Cashiers Valley on up to Sparta, offer a host of activities to keep your family entertained. Hayrides, petting zoos, farm animals, cider sipping and face painting are some of the things to do.
Many farms sell wreaths and garlands, boughs and other greenery to decorate your home, including mistletoe. Nearly all of the farms have the added bonus of being beautiful. Imagine row upon row of deep green Christmas trees undulating on hills rimmed with tractor trails. Then imagine the fun your family will have finding the perfect tree. The experience can be so joyful that many owners report that it’s not unusual for couples to announce their engagements.
Most farms open Thanksgiving weekend or the weekend before. Expect to pay about $8 a foot for six- to seven-foot-tall trees, though some farms sell for less. Farmers and their crew will cut the tree for you, and some will let you do it if you like. They’ll bale it up and tie it to your vehicle.
We’ve found a few choose-and-cut farms to highlight, but there are many others (find more by visiting ncchristmastrees.com). To help you make a day of it, we’ve suggested some additional stops where you can pick up a picnic, sit down to a fine meal or stay the night. Before we get to the farms, here are a few tips that will make your trip even more enjoyable.
Fraser Fir Friday: The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest day of the year on most choose-and-cut farms. Like Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in retail stores, crowds can be formidable. Go another day or be patient. Farms hire extra help, so things go pretty quickly. And you’re there to have fun anyway.
Making tracks: Keep in mind that these are working farms. Check a farm’s website to see if they recommend four-wheel-drive. “The perfect choose and cut weekend would be just enough snow to cover the ground but not enough so you can’t get around,” Hamilton said.
Dressing up: Remember that most tree farms are at high elevations, so a day that’s nice at home could be bracing on the mountain. A bit of chill adds to the Christmas experience, so make sure everyone has a jacket and hat in the car. A thermos of hot cider will warm things up nicely.
Brown’s Choose and Cut
Visitors drive into the fields at Brown’s Choose and Cut near Boone and see a jovial man in overalls. That’s Gary Brown, who has operated the business with his wife Lynda since the mid 1980s. A round-faced man who laughs a lot, Brown is the perfect host for an afternoon of tree hunting.
He and his wife grow about 2,000 trees on six acres, all of them Fraser firs. When asked why people prefer that tree, Brown laughed as if it was silly to consider any other kind. “Why, they hold their needles the best. They’re the prettiest and they have a good smell,” he said. It is, he maintains, as simple as that.
Families find his farm just north of Boone by following U.S. 441 out of town to N.C. 194 north. In about two miles, there’s a sign—Brown’s Choose and Cut—that directs them into the farm, a gorgeous piece of land that has been in Brown’s family since 1919. Waiting for the visitors in the field, he or any of the Browns’ four daughters and their husbands are ready to help.
They don’t care how long it takes for someone to find their tree. It’s nice being outside, and they want to give people plenty of time to explore. “Some people pick the first tree they see, and some will spend an hour in the field looking,” Brown said. “When they’re ready to cut, we’re ready to cut it.”
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