Updated July 3 at 9:03pm

Fewer tree growers, but buying still brisk in R.I.

By Harold Ambler
Contributing Writer
Late-arriving Thanksgivings shorten the traditional retail shopping season, including for Christmas tree farms, though for many Rhode Islanders the latter are a holiday-season necessity.

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AGRICULTURE

Fewer tree growers, but buying still brisk in R.I.

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Late-arriving Thanksgivings shorten the traditional retail shopping season, including for Christmas tree farms, though for many Rhode Islanders the latter are a holiday-season necessity.

“It definitely makes our season shorter and quicker,” said Sue Champagne, artistic director at The Farmer’s Daughter, a Christmas tree farm in South Kingstown. But “it has been going well, this early season. It’s all weather-dependent. … What we need is winter-feeling weather, but not storms, not rain. If you get some great 30 to 40 degree winter weather, that’s wonderful for us. … November [was] really great.”

The crop of trees made it through a less-than-ideal growing season in the last 12 months, Champagne said.

“The growing year was a little bit of a challenge later in the season with the lack of rain, and the heat that came on,” she said.

Eric Watne, president of the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association and owner of Clark’s Christmas Tree Farm in Tiverton, said the shorter calendar had one benefit: It presented one fewer weekend to work fingers to the bone for owners, who with few exceptions have day jobs off the farm.

“The weekends are exhausting,” Watne said. “We like doing it, and we like it when it’s over. … It’s a lot of heavy lifting.”

Currently there are approximately 40 members of the association, about half what he’s been told there were as recently as 15 years ago, Watne said.

“In the eight years I’ve been here, I’ve seen half a dozen farmers stop, who have gone out of business,” he said. “They got too old to take care of the crops themselves and no one else in the family wanted to. So, their land ended up getting sold or used for other purposes.”

On Aquidneck Island, Sweet Berry Farm’s co-owner, Jan Eckhart, was hopeful that the calendar wouldn’t be the ultimate determinant of his business.

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