Cultivating these Christmas icons requires a year-round commitment!
The Virginia Farm Bureau is showcasing some of the 1,400 Christmas tree growers across the state as they engage in a year-round labor of love behind these iconic holiday symbols — from novice tree grower like Ricky Lapkin to seasoned veterans of the industry like Timothy O’Neal.
The story of Christmas trees begins long before the holiday season. In Virginia, where approximately 1,400 Christmas tree growers engage in a love affair with their craft, the process is a year-round endeavor. The Virginia Farm Bureau provides a glimpse into the dedication and passion of the growers behind these iconic holiday symbols.
The journey from planting to harvest is an intricate dance, as demonstrated by the planting of five sections of trees that will span the next five to six years. With an estimated 1,200 trees per acre, the planting process involves meticulous planning, hard work, and collaboration. While the labor-intensive nature of planting may seem daunting, it is an essential step in ensuring a steady supply of fresh Christmas trees for years to come.
Despite the convenience of artificial trees, America’s fascination with fresh Christmas trees is experiencing a resurgence. In fact, approximately 25 to 30 million fresh-cut trees are sold each year nationwide. Virginia’s tree industry stands as a beacon to the enduring appeal of real Christmas trees, earning estimated annual gross sales of $20 to $30 million.
For Ricky Lapkin, a novice tree grower, and Timothy O’Neal, a seasoned veteran, cultivating Christmas trees is more than a seasonal venture—it’s a labor of love that spans generations.
Planting the Seed: First-Generation Grower Ricky Lapkin
Ricky Lapkin’s decision to invest in a Christmas tree farm as a new side business reflects a desire to contribute to the revival of small, family-friendly farms.
Lapkin’s foray into the Christmas tree business was inspired by cherished family memories of cutting down their own trees. As smaller farms gradually fade away due to retirements and changing landscapes, he saw an opportunity on his property to revive the tradition.
The Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, in collaboration with other state Growers Associations, is exploring ways to bring back local farms, providing families with the opportunity to cut their own trees and immerse themselves in the Christmas experience.
Passing Down Passion: Second-Generation Grower Timothy O’Neal
Timothy O’Neal, a second-generation tree grower, inherited his family’s farm, which was established by his father in 1965. After working alongside his father throughout his life, O’Neal intimately understands the ongoing learning curve of cultivating Christmas trees, emphasizing that the process is one requiring continuous education.
As the O’Neals aim to sell around 500 trees this year, they emphasize the farm’s “No Frills” approach—focusing on fresh trees and friendly faces. The excitement and energy that accompany the arrival of families on the farm contribute to the joy of the season.
According to a survey by the National Christmas Tree Association, over 30 percent of real Christmas trees were purchased at choose-and-cut farms in 2022, underscoring the enduring charm of this timeless holiday tradition. For those interested in choosing and cutting their own tree, the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association website offers the latest list of growers, connecting consumers with the roots of joy that lie in Virginia’s Christmas tree farms. To learn more, visit: VirginiaGrown.com