Lockdown forces Christmas tree farms to modify operations

Wikimedia Commons/Madereugeneandrew

NOT SO JOLLY?: Christmas tree farm owners say they will do everything they can to retain the family experience of visiting a Christmas tree farm even despite COVID-19 restrictions.

Vermont’s response to the coronavirus is forcing holiday-focused businesses to modify their operations, but tree farms are doing everything they can to keep the spirit of Christmas alive.

Vermont’s Health Department is continuing to pressure residents not to travel or have large gatherings during the holidays, and even blames the rise in coronavirus cases on such activities. The clampdown has forced holiday-related businesses to change their operations.

Bob Murray, of Murray Hill Farm in Waterbury Center, says shopping is different this year for those who have gone out to purchase a Christmas tree.

“[They won’t be able to] do much except pick up the tree and go home,” he said. “Maybe they can wander around the woods for a half-hour or an hour, and pick the best tree they see.”

“We normally run [operations] from inside our house and people come in. Now we’re going to have to run it through a window on the porch and hand them out their drinks and take their money,” Murray added.

One thing that will be different is the level of personal interaction. Typically, customers gather on his porch and sit and drink drinks and take pictures. But Gov. Phil Scott’s restrictions on how people gather and move about all but eliminates social interaction in public.

Despite the state regulations, Murray believes business volume may come in close to a typical year, at least for the choose-and-cut sector.

“People want to get out, and this way they are out in the open and away from other people,” he said.

Over at Moffatt Tree farms in Newport, Jim Moffatt says he thinks business is going to be good, even if the experience is different.

“Early interest would indicate that the choose-and-cut [business] would be normal,” he said. “However, we have to put a whole new regimen of COVID cautions out there and this is evolving slowly. Our signage is encouraging people to wear their masks and stay 6 feet apart. Of course, there’s always the issue of bodily contact.”

Asked if people can still expect to have a good time together, Moffatt replied, “Mostly family groups or single people, yes. I don’t think we’ll see too much difference there. [But] we won’t allow anyone inside our building.”

Despite the low numbers of COVID deaths in Vermont, Moffatt said he supports the general approach the governor has taken.

“Well, you know, I think this is a very dangerous time — the numbers are on the rise and I think we don’t need to drop our guard now. We need to really pay attention,” he said.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, roughly 30 million trees are sold per year and about 350,000 acres are used just for Christmas trees.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Madereugeneandrew