Vermont Christmas tree farmers are struggling to keep up with demand
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:
For many families in Vermont, it wouldn't be the holidays without a trip to Whites Christmas tree farm in the town of Essex. It's the classic cut-your-own-tree place. But this year, Vermont Christmas tree farmers are struggling to keep up with demand. Here's Mikaela Lefrak with member station VPR.
MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: Here at Whites, visitors browse the fields of fir trees and pick the perfect one to chop down.
(SOUNDBITE OF SLASHING)
LEFRAK: Then they pull them back on orange sleds and hoist them onto their cars.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yup, yup.
LEFRAK: But this year, owner Bob White is closing his business earlier than usual. Last year, demand for trees spiked with more people staying home during the pandemic, so farmers cut down more trees than they usually do. That means fewer mature trees in the fields this year. White tried to buy pre-cut trees from big farms to supplement his cut-your-own crop.
BOB WHITE: I would've loved to have bought a couple thousand. I bought zero.
LEFRAK: Zero - they were all sold out. Jane Murray is with Murray Hill Farm, another of the 70 or so Christmas tree farms in Vermont.
JANE MURRAY: Pre-cut is nutty right now. I mean, I have a friend in Texas. They just bought theirs. Same one that we would sell for $45, they just spent $180 on it.
LEFRAK: The Pacific Northwest is the biggest producer of Christmas trees in the country. This summer's heat and drought ruined much of the crop there. That's part of the reason why trees from small farms, like the ones in Vermont, are selling for such high prices. Jane Murray knows a wholesaler who sold all his trees to a New York vendor instead of local Vermont businesses. The New Yorker was just offering a much higher price.
MURRAY: It was really sad to hear that because, you know, in this industry, a lot of people, especially in Vermont, do it for the local family aspect of it all. And kind of takes the spirit of Christmas right out of you.
LEFRAK: Prices are also higher this year because tree farmers are passing on the costs of doing business to the customer. The labor shortage led many farmers, including Bob White, to raise wages to attract seasonal workers. But slightly higher prices didn't keep one family from picking out an enormous tree.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's a big one.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That is a nice one.
LEFRAK: Here in Vermont, there is another good option besides visiting a tree farm. Grab an ax and head into the Green Mountain National Forest. If you buy a $5 permit, the Christmas tree of your choosing is all yours.
For NPR News in Burlington, I'm Mikaela Lefrak.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID BENOIT'S "O TANNENBAUM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.