It’s the busiest time of year for Vermont’s Christmas tree growers, with customers on the hunt for trees that match their specifications for shape, height, and fragrance.
According to the USDA agricultural census of 2012, its most recent study, Vermont had 288 tree farms that were growing trees on more than 3,600 acres. Tree sales brought in roughly $2.8-million, according to the census.
Estimates have suggested Vermont’s Christmas tree industry supplies customers across the state and New England with more than 134,000 trees. Some are even shipped across the country and internationally.
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At the Russell Christmas Tree Farm in Starksboro, draft horses pull wagons that bring customers to one of owner Dave Russell’s fields to select a tree.
"I tell everybody that they’re welcome to have the best tree I’ve got," Dave Russell said. "They just have to go find it!"
The Lewis family, visiting Vermont from Long Island for the Thanksgiving weekend, said picking out their tree from Russell’s property has become an annual tradition.
"The holidays are not the same if we’re not up here," mom Kristie Lewis said.
Russell said about 30 or 40 percent of the approximately 1,000 trees the farm will sell this year are cut down by families on wagon rides.
The rest of his trees go to customers who save money by skipping the horse-drawn experience.
"It is a unique offering, which draws people in," Russell said of the horse-drawn wagon rides.
A wagon or sleigh ride including a fresh-cut tree costs $75 per household at the Russell Christmas Tree Farm. A tree without the wagon ride costs $45.
But if horses aren’t your speed, at Sharp Farm in Milton, you could use a Segway to pick out your tree.
Owner Rick Sharp needs the right weather conditions and beefed-up winter tires to use the people-movers to take tree shoppers through his property.
He requires a simpler model of Segway tires for his summertime tour business on Burlington’s waterfront.
"And they fit just perfectly between the rows of trees, so it works really well," Sharp said of the concept to get around the Christmas tree farm on a Segway. "You can get around a lot quicker with a Segway."
However, Sharp said most customers opt to simply walk through the rows of trees at his farm, with only a small percentage going with the Segway option. It’s a charge of $59 for a tour of the scenic property, but you do get half off the price of your tree with a Segway tour.
Without the Segway tour, a 5-8-foot tree from Sharp Farm costs $40, with an extra $6 per foot for taller trees.
"It’s a great idea, absolutely," tree shopper Nikoa Kmetz-Derr said of using a Segway to get around a tree field. "Especially with so much land. You could probably really hike up there if you really wanted to look, so it’s great that they provide some transportation."
Whether folks explore on foot, wheels, or hooves, Vermont’s tree farms are glad to help keep the state’s working landscape thriving.