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Christmas tree farms lure more families; boast bigger, better trees this season

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While the latest gadgets on store shelves continue to advance each holiday season, families haven’t yet forsaken the tradition of chopping down real Christmas trees together. In fact, more families are making outings to tree farms in the north country this season.

Hemlock Haven Christmas Tree Farm, 460 County Route 22A, Sandy Creek, drew a noticeable increase in sales the weekend after Thanksgiving, said Michele M. Forsyth, who co-owns the business with her husband, James T. The adventure of hunting for the ideal Christmas tree is lost by families who prefer artificial trees, she said, but some are changing their minds.

“It’s becoming more and more important to do things as a family because our lives are lives are more hectic, especially for a two-job working family,” Mrs. Forsyth said. “We see people changing their mind to think they are willing to put up with the needles in exchange for that wonderful smell of a tree. More people are wanting trees on Thanksgiving weekend when college students are home, and a lot of families from Fort Drum after deployments.”

This season’s tree crop at the 90-acre farm fared better than usual, she said, because of hot, dry weather with relatively low rainfall. Precut and you-pick varieties include the Fraser, Douglas and balsam firs; white pine and white and blue spruce. Visitors will find an abundance of healthy trees for sale this season. They cost about $6 a foot and range from $48 to $54.

“Our established trees had no problem whatsoever,” Mrs. Forsyth said. “When it’s dry you don’t get fungus on the firs that will kill them, and you don’t get as many insects.”

Despite long stretches without rain this summer, she said, only 800 of the 4,000 trees planted at the farm in the spring were lost. A larger death toll was prevented by cool air during the evenings that brought high moisture for the trees. The farm’s elevated location near Lake Ontario draws more moisture than other areas.

“We got lucky. We picked an open spot that slopes down to collect moisture to plant the trees,” she said, adding trees need about 10 years to grow before they can be sold.

Mrs. Forsyth said the farm hosts “open house” weekends, which lure the most traffic during the first and second weekends of December. Those weekends feature visits with Santa, horse-drawn wagon rides and workshops on how to make wreaths. She said the spirited atmosphere is what reels families back year after year.

Families “don’t have time to have fun, so that’s very important to us,” she said. “It’s always Christmas spirit time here.”

More families have also been drawn to the Simmons Farm, 10180 State Route 12, Copenhagen, said Shari L. Simmons, who co-owns the farm with her husband, Ted A. The couple, which has run the family farm for 35 years, also owns a second location off County Road 69 in Lowville. Trees are cut weekly at the farm to ensure they’re fresh, and most trees range from $30 to $35.

“A lot of families are doing this as a tradition and making a day out of it,” Mrs. Simmons said. “We’ve been very busy since we opened.”

Mrs. Simmons said the 30-acre farm’s stock of Fraser and balsam firs fared well this season, but it lost 75 percent of the 4,000 baby trees planted in the spring because of low rainfall. To make up for the loss, about 7,000 will be planted next season.

Mrs. Simmons’s grandfather, Robert L. Snyder, started the tree farm in the early 1930s. In addition to new customers it scooped up this season, the tree farm’s sales have been buoyed by the same families who’ve been coming for generations.

“We love to see how excited families get,” Mrs. Simmons said.

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