For procrastinators, there’s one more way that 2020 could make your holiday season less full of cheer: Christmas trees are in high demand and, in some cases, scarce supply this year.
Joanne Bond of Bond Mountain Acres in West Newfield, close to the New Hampshire border, is the executive secretary and treasurer of the Maine Christmas Tree Association. Her choose and cut farm, and a lot of the other tree farms in the association, are in the same predicament — they’ve sold out of Christmas trees but shoppers still keep coming. Southern Maine is especially hard hit. Farms in central and northern parts of the state are more likely to still have trees, she said.
Christmas tree customers might want to call a farm or check its social media pages before heading out, just to make sure trees are still available.
“We’re closed,” Bond said Saturday to a would-be Christmas tree customer who came to her farm. “I had to close last Sunday. Go try to find a precut somewhere, if you can. But they’re going fast, too.”
The demand this year has been incredible, she said. People came from miles away in search of trees, and they came much earlier than normal. Her farm was swamped. She blamed it on the pandemic, and the desire for some cheer and normalcy in a year that has largely been devoid of both those things.
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“I had people just swarming my place. They were coming from Portland, Cape Elizabeth, everywhere. People are bored to death and they needed some happiness in their life,” Bond said, adding that the boom in business has an unfortunate side effect. “I’m very upset, because I feel bad. People coming who always came can’t get a tree.”
Media reports from around the country and beyond show that the tree shortage is widespread. In addition to higher demand because of the pandemic, reasons for the shortage likely include fewer trees available due to drought conditions and several years of intense wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada. There’s also the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, during which farmers planted fewer seedlings. The slow-growing trees take about a decade to grow to full size, and the shortage was first noticed a few years ago.
Bond said she closed the farm early last year, too, but it wasn’t as heart-wrenching then.
“We didn’t have the people coming and the phone ringing as we’ve had this year,” she said.
Not every Maine Christmas tree farm is in the same situation, fortunately. Anne McCullen of Piper Mountain Christmas Tree Farm in Newburgh said that it has been a busy season, but she and her husband, Mac McCullen still have plenty of trees. The height of the demand came Thanksgiving weekend and the weekend after that, and it’s been steady but slower since then.
“We opened early, which we almost never do,” she said.
If last-minute Christmas tree shoppers can come during the week and not the weekend, it will likely be a less crowded experience, she said.
That’s also the case at Highfield Farm in Eddington, a small establishment with about five acres in Christmas trees. Last year, Julie Hayes said she and her husband sold about 70 trees. This year, they’ve more than doubled that number already.
She thinks that the pandemic plays a role in the high demand because of the desire for tradition and cheer, and also because going to a Christmas tree farm can be a fun, safe outdoor activity. Their farm isn’t very commercial, she said, and doesn’t have amenities such as a gift shop. But it does have fields, trees and beautiful views aplenty.
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“People have expressed that it’s just nice to come out and walk in the fresh air,” she said.
At Murphy’s Tree Stand on Route 3 in Belfast, where trees and wreaths are on offer but scenic walks are not, owner Shanna Grindle said that it’s still been a really good season.
“It’s the first year we’ve sold a Christmas tree a week before Thanksgiving,” she said.
Her son, Bryan Spaulding, 18, who sported a festive holiday sweater and a Santa hat, said it’s clear to him that people are craving normalcy.
“A lot of people said they wanted to have the Christmas spirit early,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of new customers we’ve never seen before.”
Len and Nancy Price at Nutkin Knoll Farm in Newburgh had considered not opening their farm this fall, as the COVID-19 numbers in the state were beginning to rise so steeply. They’re glad they did. As with the other tree farmers, demand has been very strong, Len Price said, but they’re happy not just because business has been booming.
“The number of customers who have come up to one or the other of us and expressed heartfelt appreciation. ‘Thank you for being open. ‘Thank you for letting us do this,’ and how much this has meant to their family,” Len Price said. “To hear those comments — we didn’t have a choice.”