DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — It’s hard for a motorist to miss Finestkind Tree Farms while traveling north along Route 15 toward the Piscataquis County seat.
Perhaps three miles south of town on the left side of the road is a hillside lined with rows of future Christmas trees that serves as the first sign of approximately 150 acres of balsam and Fraser firs grown in Dover-Foxcroft and Sangerville by the LaCasce family.
Those trees, like virtually all other forms of plant life in Maine, were challenged by drought conditions earlier this year, but timely rain late in the summer and closer to harvest time has left this year’s crop ready for the holiday season.
Christmas tree farms around the state will have to adjust to state mask-wearing and mass-gathering mandates as well as physical distancing guidelines because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the great outdoors and the acres of trees to choose from may provide a diversion from those concerns as families participate in one of their holiday traditions.
From left (clockwise): Sierra Stevens makes a wreath for the Finestkind gift shop in Dover-Foxcroft; Jeanene LaCasce, 86, remains active in the business and may be found most days during the fall making all the kissing balls and bows for the Finestkind gift shop; Matt LaCasce (left), and his father Duane LaCasce, owners of Finestkind Tree Farms in Dover-Foxcroft, use a 1940s Willys modified with a conveyor to load Christmas trees onto a truck. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Stephen Higgins, president of the Maine Christmas Tree Association and owner of Higgins Balsams North tree farm in Presque Isle, senses a heightened interest in the holiday season as a respite to life amid the coronavirus.
“I think people are looking forward to Christmas and getting some joy in their lives,” he said. “I don’t think COVID is going to hurt the Christmas tree business except to make it more labor-intensive for the retailer to deal with COVID as far as following the CDC guidelines in their Christmas tree lots.
“But I believe the customers are going to be there.”
Finestkind’s crews were out last weekend loading trucks with newly cut trees to begin satisfying an eager wholesale market.
“As far as wholesale we sell out every year, and the market for us depends on how many trees we have available to sell,” Joy LaCasce said. She added that a good majority of Finestkind’s wholesale customers are in Maine. “We can sell everything we have and we could sell more. I’m getting calls every day from people looking for wholesale trees.”
The company is set to open its Ames Road retail shop on Black Friday, Nov. 27, with wreaths, garland, centerpieces, ornaments, tree bags, tree stands on sale as well as pre-cut trees.
A choose-and-cut option also is available for Finestkind customers on Saturdays and Sundays beginning Nov. 28 and 29.
“People may be a little afraid to come out, but you can come to the farm, get your tree and pay for it and not even have to be near anybody,” LaCasce said. “You’re outside and cutting your tree or you’re in the lot picking out a tree and once you’ve found one you can pay for it and be on your way and not have to intermingle too much.”
From left (top to bottom): Finestkind Tree Farms along Rt. 15 in Dover-Foxcroft; Matt LaCasce waits as his father Duane LaCasce moves the conveyor to load different sized trees into a truck at Finestkind Tree Farms in Dover-Foxcroft on Wednesday; Matt LaCasce (left) loads a truck with Christmas trees as his father Duane LaCasce lifts them onto a conveyor at Finestkind Tree Farms in Dover-Foxcroft. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
Customers have been coming to the Finestkind Tree Farms for more than a half-century, since forester Jim LaCasce and his wife Jeanene sold their first tree in 1967.
There were no tree plantations back then, just wild fir trees on family property that were pruned into Christmas-tree shape.
That gradually changed for the LaCasces, who planted their first field of fir trees just off the Greely’s Landing Road in Dover-Foxcroft while operating their business out of their Green Street home.
The LaCasces moved their home and business to the current location in 1990, with acreage around the home dedicated to expanding their tree supply.
The family has since added land in Sangerville for growing additional trees to address market demand.
While Jim LaCasce died in 2018, 86-year-old Jeanene LaCasce remains active in the business and may be found most days during the fall making all of the kissing balls and bows for the Finestkind gift shop.
Ownership of the operation now rests with the LaCasces’ son Duane and grandson Matt.
Joy LaCasce, Duane’s wife, anticipates an active holiday season for the family business.
“We’ve had lots of calls with people asking, ‘When are you open, when are you open?’” she said. “People are excited. We’re thinking people are going to want to come get a tree, then be home and have their Christmas.
“We expect that this year will be busy, more so than usual.”