GO-MR-54-2-Growing-Memories-on-the-Farm-4595by Sally Colby
Many New England farms can trace their history back to a time when diversified farms were the norm, and that’s the case for Angevine Farm in Warren, CT.
The Angevine family has recorded family history on the farm as far back as 1868 when the primary farm enterprises included tobacco, livestock and tree fruit. Although the family grew some Christmas trees in the 1970s to supplement farm income, John and Kathleen Angevine decided to become more serious about growing Christmas trees in the 1980s.
“It was a sideline to our market egg business back in the 1960s,” said John, describing the family’s venture into growing cut-your-own Christmas trees. “We put in about four acres of white spruce and blue spruce to start. We could purchase them inexpensively from state nurseries. Then we decided to get out of poultry and put more effort into Christmas trees.”
John recalls having a significant problem with deer damage when he first planted Christmas trees, and it wasn’t until the deer population thinned out that area growers began to plant fir trees. “We paid attention to what customers asked for from the beginning,” he said. “They like Fraser fir, but it’s a very fussy tree, and we only have a few areas where it does well. The Black Hills spruce doesn’t mind water in the root area or the early or late frost of a swampy area.”
Like other Christmas tree growers, John encourages people to use real trees, and has noticed that many people who have had artificial trees in the past are returning to purchasing fresh trees. He emphasizes the experience of bringing the family to the farm and spending time together.
Today, daughter Lisa Angevine-Bergs has taken over the role of marketing, the gift shop and wreath making. She talks about the fall activities that lead into the busy Christmas season. “People like to see the foliage and pick their own pumpkins,” she said, adding that the season is laid back and casual. “The fields are very scenic, and people come with their families and cameras and take pictures.” Angevine Farm grows about 30 varieties of pumpkins in addition to numerous gourds and squash. In fall, the barn that once served as an egg processing area is filled with fall-themed items in addition to a variety of pumpkins, gourds and squash.
Once customers have had their fill of pumpkins and other fall-related items, it’s time for Christmas. Lisa has paid close attention to current trends regarding customer preferences when it comes to Christmas trees.
“Part of the experience for people is the trek over the fields to find the perfect tree,” said Lisa, adding that the farm includes about 35 acres in Christmas tree production. “Skinny, sparse and natural looking trees are becoming more popular. People are getting back to basics and want a more natural look in their home, and they want to show off their ornaments.”
Lisa has also noticed that some families are choosing multiple trees for one household. “People will cut a large tree and a smaller tree,” she said. “We’re also seeing more people looking for small table-top trees, so we planted about 40 Fraser fir and Black Hill Spruce in pots.”
How can a farm predict trends with a crop that requires at least seven years to mature? “At the end of the season, we sit down and talk about the requests we heard,” said Lisa, adding that the tendency toward a tall, skinny tree has been evolving for the past several years. “If it’s a request one year, it doesn’t just stop with that year – it rolls over into the next few years. We know that if 10 people request something, there are more who want it.” Lisa says that what her family thinks is the ideal tree isn’t necessarily the best seller, and they try hard to honor what customers ask for. She noted that many customers requested concolor fir several years ago. “We planted a lot of those,” she said, “and it’s still a popular choice today.”
In addition to choose-and-cut trees, Angevine Farm offers precut trees; most of which come from their own fields. Lisa says that the market for precut trees is growing, especially among the older generation who prefer a fresh precut tree. “We’re trying to offer more six foot precut trees,” said Lisa. “Those customers are traditionalists, and they want a fresh tree to keep a tradition going. They’ve been coming here for 20 or 30 years and we want to make sure we have something for them.”
All choose-and-cut trees are priced the same, and precut trees are tagged and sold by size. Customers can also tag a tree in fall when the weather is pleasant and families are more likely to spend time in the field. “People who are out driving around looking at fall foliage stop in for fall crops, which lead in to winter sales,” said Lisa. “Many customers who visit the farm between Thanksgiving and Christmas bring their children, and there are some three-generation families coming to select trees.” Customers who tag a tree in fall are encouraged to add survey ribbon and even decorations to make sure December tree shoppers don’t mistake a tagged tree for one that’s available. Signage in the field also reminds customers that tagged trees have already been selected.
After choosing the perfect Christmas tree, customers enjoy visiting the Christmas barn where John plays seasonal tunes on a restored theater organ. During the Christmas season, the barn also serves as a wreath factory. “People can watch wreaths and garlands being made,” said Lisa. “We use Fraser fir, white pine, concolor fir, Canaan fir, balsam fir and boxwood. I decorate some with pine cones and berries, and some are plain for people to decorate.”
Angevine Farm enters trees and wreaths in the Eastern States Exposition every year, and Lisa looks forward to hearing feedback from people who are looking at the displays. “The wreaths that win every year are more simplistic,” she said.
Lisa’s brother Tim, who is the farm manager, handles tree cultivation. Lisa said Tim prefers to replant entire fields whenever possible. “It’s difficult if we just cut down the tree, grind the stump and replant because it’s hard to mow,” said Lisa. “It’s a lot easier to take care of trees that are similar sizes. We rotate fields to manage pests. If a field has proven to be too dry or too wet for Christmas trees, it doesn’t go back in production.”
Lisa enjoys the business and those who are involved in it. “In this industry, we all help each other, and it’s a very friendly business,” she said. “We know the struggles. It’s a unique business.”
Today, there are 10 family members working on Angevine farm, including Lisa’s two young adult children. “We want to keep it simple, but we know we have to grow the business in order to survive,” said Lisa. “We’re realistic in that respect.”
Visit Angevine Farm online at www.angevinefarm.com .