A holiday tradition

Steve Rhoades strolls through a line of White Spruce trees on the left and Norway Spruce trees on the right as he walks through the maze of Christmas trees on his cut your own Christmas tree operation at Mountain View Farm in Edinburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

December is Virginia Christmas Tree month, and for local Christmas tree farmers in the Shenandoah Valley, 2014 is another year to provide a popular holiday tradition.

Paris Rasnic of the Moose Apple Tree Farm in Berryville says the reason why cut-your-own Christmas tree model still works is that “people like the Christmas experience of going out and finding a tree.”

Rasnic said that Moose Apple began selling in 2008 and has seen the business “grow like mad.” The farm has sold around 200,000 trees since its inception, Rasnic said.

Steve Rhoades of Mountain View Farm in Edinburg, has experienced similar growth — his farm has seen quite an upswing in business in the past six years.

“We opened in 2008 … and started at around 250 [trees sold] and we keeping going up and up,” Rhoades said. His farm sold around 650 trees last year.

Rhoades said a big aspect of Mountain View’s success is that the time and care that he and his wife Sharon put into the trees and handmade wreaths.

“[Our] trees are really very nicely shaped so … when people leave here, [the tree’s] got our name on it,” Rhoades said.

Other area farms, such as Clouse’s Pine Hill Farm and Valley Star Farms, have seen steady increases in business over the past five years.

Dave Thomas of Valley Star Farms expressed similar thoughts regarding opinions of his trees. “People know they are going to get a fresh tree from a large selection,” Thomas said.

With two locations – one in Luray and Evergreen Tree Farm in Harrisonburg – Valley Star offers its customers about 6,000 trees between both locations, Thomas said.

Thomas added that because it is a fun family experience, the process can be “a whole lot more than just getting a tree.”

At Clouse’s Pine Hill Farm in Winchester, Roberta Clouse asserted, “People want to have an experience with the family.”

The Clouse family began selling trees in 1984 and, Clouse said, the business has been steady, but also has been “increasing a little bit every year.”

Not only that, but Clouse also said that they have seen the business extend to customers from West Virginia, Richmond and even North Carolina.

It could be, Clouse said, a matter of extended families visiting during the Thanksgiving season.

In addition, Clouse said that the choose-and-cut method could have some lasting power due to traditions continued over generations.

Farms such as Mountain View, Valley Star and Moose Apple also seek to enhance the experience by providing handmade crafts as well as hot beverages for customers.

“I think it’s a combination of the quality of the product — both for the wreaths and the trees — as well as the price that makes it relatively attractive here in particular,” Rhoades said.

As for holiday sales expectations, the local farmers are simply looking to exceed what they accomplished in years past.

Despite the growing number of the sales for artificial Christmas trees, farmers in Shenandoah county expect a boost in sales for the 2014 season.

One aspect that may help farms is opening early. According to Thomas, Valley Star opened its Luray location the Saturday before Thanksgiving due to the number of requests it received.

However, Thomas said that only about a dozen customers showed up. “Some came to get trees early and some came for questions,” Thomas added.

Steve and Sharon Rhoades also opened Mountain View Farm a full week earlier than usual – due to the late arrival of Thanksgiving.

Over the course of the weekend, according to Rhoades, Mountain View saw very few customers. “We kind of expected that,” Rhoades said, but he added they should see a large crowd following the Thanksgiving holiday.

He added that he believes most people still have the mindset of “Let’s enjoy Thanksgiving, and … after it is over, then let’s get ready for Christmas.”

Virginia has more than 500 Christmas tree farms and ranks seventh in the nation in total trees harvested.

There are around 25 farms within a 50-mile radius of Strasburg, according to VirginiaGrown.org as well as the Virginia Christmas Tree Grower’s Association website.

More information about farm locations and prices can be found at VirginiaGrown.org and VirginiaChristmasTrees.org.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com