Christmas tree growers in Salmon Arm seem to be a happy bunch. Perhaps it’s because they deal in the business of joy.
Gwen and Alan Wall, self-proclaimed “city kids,” took over Cam Mellor’s Cam’s U-Cut in September last year. It’s been something of a dream come true for them.
“It has to be one of the happiest places on earth at Christmas time. People come with their family and friends,” says Gwen, explaining that laughter prevails as children excitedly choose their favourite tree.
Hot chocolate and a bonfire at the farm at 1370-20th Ave. SE. add to the fun.
The Walls have been coming to Salmon Arm for 30 years because they have family here, but when they spotted the Mellor property for sale, they jumped at the chance. Their children are grown and they were ready for a change.
“It was summertime. The energy all those trees give off is amazing. It’s a really positive thing,” enthuses Alan, noting that one acre of the trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people for a year. “We fell in love with the property and thought, ‘How hard can it be?’”
They’ve done a lot of learning about pruning, weeding and planting, aided by the knowledge of the property’s previous owner. Of their 7,000 trees, they have five varieties of fir, two of pine and three of spruce.
“People know it as Cam’s place and it should stay that way,” says Alan, noting he has great respect for the fit 70-year-old. “I would say 80 per cent of the people who come here have been coming here for years. A lot were very happy it was going to remain a tree farm.”
Until about seven years ago, the Jespersens’ property at 438-35th St. NE supported strawberries. Now, u-cut Christmas trees are the crop of choice.
“We love it, we love the whole atmosphere,” says Robyn Jespersen. “It’s more of an adventure, an experience, than just buying a tree. We pull the firepit down, we turn on the music. It’s more of a social thing for us, we love to talk to people.”
When the u-pick strawberries became more difficult than a sideline should be, about eight years ago Robyn and Ed decided to plant trees. As most Christmas trees are about six to seven years old, they tried selling for two weekends last year.
That went well, so the Jespersens are open weekends this year through to the 18th. They, too, have had a lot to learn, and received help from experienced grower Carl Harding.
“The first trees we did were very experimental, learning how to culture and take care of them. Four or five years ago, we had some pretty skinny, Charlie Brown trees,” says Robyn.
This year the Jespersens are collaborating with the Family Resource Centre in a Christmas fundraiser. A portion of each u-cut tree purchased goes to the centre, with an opportunity to also buy their trees at the Ross Street Parking lot on Dec. 8 and 9.
All the growers point out that B.C.-grown trees are fresher and apt to last longer than ones shipped from afar, because those trees may have been cut in September or October. Many B.C.-grown trees are identifiable by their ‘BC Tree’ tags.
And the local growers see a farmed Christmas tree as more environmentally friendly than an artificial one. Firstly, it’s not created in a factory from plastic; secondly, it decomposes much faster than plastic; thirdly, it is a renewable farm crop so is replanted and; fourthly, it supplies oxygen.
Carl Harding of Kar Mac Christmas trees is a second-generation grower. His brother and father have a farm in Mission.
He moved here in 1995 and farms his trees in Scotch Creek under the Hydro lines. He notes they would have to be cut down anyway to keep them clear of the lines. They’re sold in Salmon Arm at Pedro Gonzales’.
“I love to get out there in nature and do my job and nobody bugs you. I enjoy nature, and I love shearing trees. There’s something about shaping trees I love – and collecting money, of course,” he laughs.
Christmas tree farming keeps him busy year round, except for January and February when there’s snow on the ground. For growers, December, of course, is busy to the extreme.
“You don’t book holidays in December, you don’t get married. We had a child born Dec. 22, but fortunately he waited until Dec. 22 when the rush was over.”