Christmas trees in the United States are not only a holiday tradition but big business as well. Every year Americans buy some 30 million live trees. They are grown at special farms like the 'Peper'mint Christmas Tree Farm in Virginia. VOA's Tetiana Vorozhko and Ruslan Petrychka recently went to the farm in search of the perfect tree. Jim Bertel narrates.
Joann Bartlett and her husband Bill grew up in Washington, D.C. As children both dreamed about farming. In 1972, they bought some land in Culpepper, Virginia -- just a two-hour drive from the nation's capital.
"We thought it would be nice to plant some Christmas trees for family and friends to come and cut,” Joann tells us. “And as we planted more trees we found out that we had more trees than friends and family."
The Bartletts, along with their three sons, opened their "choose and cut" Christmas tree business to the public in 1994. Now the 'Peper'mint farm has 6,000 pine and fir trees.
It is an average-sized tree farm compared to their competitors in the area. Joann says the competition is rather friendly, but the income is not great, especially because sales have dropped this year. "I guess that Christmas trees are a luxury that you can go without," she thinks
The first two weekends of December are the busiest time for selling trees. However, clients are welcome anytime. One Bartlett is always by the phone. On this day, the weather is mild. The firs and pines are waiting for the first customers of the day. Joann Bartlett takes advantage of the lull to create Christmas garlands, talk on the phone, and patiently wait. Her husband Bill arrives just in time for the first buyers.
One family always buys live trees but has never cut one down before. The first step is finding the perfect tree. Cutting down the tree is not easy. So why do it? Dad says, "For the kids, so he can see it. For the smell that goes around the house. It is just a new thing to do really. An adventurous thing [to do]."
But there is more to do than cut trees. Once the Christmas tree is safely secured on the car, the family spends time with the farm's pony and goats. There is even free candy for the children.
Bill Bartlett loves his job. "We meet so many nice people right here. We don't make any money but we make great friends. Nice little kid."
Caring for the farm would be impossible for the Bartlett's without the help of their family, including grandson John and his girlfriend. He says he tries to help as often as he can. "We come down like three- four times a year to help out."
But today -- just a few days before Christmas -- they were also choosing a tree of their own.