50 years of Christmas trees

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:19

    Wantage — Shale Hills Farm planted its first evergreen seedling in 1961. Since that time, families from throughout New Jersey, New York City and beyond have made a tradition of starting their holiday season by spending a day at the Sussex County farm and cutting their own Christmas tree. Shale Hills Farm owner Mike Garrett said that “raising Christmas trees was by accident.” When his father purchased the farm, one particularly hilly section of the property suffered from erosion problems. The county agricultural agent suggested planting evergreens to hold back the soil. Five thousand seedlings were planted that year. A few years later, word got out that Shale Hills Farm had a field of beautiful pine trees. Garrett says he remembers that “so many local folk flocked to the farm that year to get their Christmas tree that the state police sent a patrol over to find out why there was a traffic jam on the seldom used road leading up to [the] property.” In the early days, said Garrett, most of his trees were of the “Charlie Brown” variety. But as the years went by and preferences changed, people sought out the “perfect” tree. Now trees are pruned every year during their eight- to 12-year lifespan. And pines are no longer the preferred choice. Shale Hills Farm has about 25,000 spruces, firs and pines in various stages of maturity. More than trees now When families make their pilgrimage to Shale Hills Farm, Garrett says, they make a day of it. “We want to make it a fun day in the country for our guests. Refreshments are available at the Candy Cane Cottage and the fully decorated barn is home to just about every kind of farm animal you can imagine. Christmas movies run all day long in the hayloft and we even have a deal with the North Pole so that the 'real’ Santa Claus spends some time here.” Over the years, Shale Hills Farm has raised a variety of crops and livestock, including beef cattle, pigs, corn, hay and greenhouse tomatoes but one crop takes center stage. “Christmas tree farming has been my favorite. Carol and I enjoy every aspect of it, from the spring planting right up to the selling season. It is such a pleasure to open the farm to families who are more than just customers...they are our friends and we appreciate that they include us as a part of their own holiday experience.” For more information visit www.ShaleHillsFarm.com.