Want a tree for the holidays? Better hurry up.
With the help of their dog, Sampson, three generations enjoy their annual pilgrimage to Elysian Hills to chop down their Christmas tree. From left to right: Amy Sprague, her daughter Maddy and grandmother Sheryl Petersen Sprague, all from Putney.

Want a tree for the holidays? Better hurry up.

Despite higher costs, people are still snapping up their Christmas trees — if they can find them

BRATTLEBORO — Loic Danjou is the picture of Christmas, sporting forest green wool pants, a red-and-black-checkered insulated shirt, and a red woolen cap topping his grey hair.

He chats at his Christmas tree stand in the parking lot of the Black Mountain Inn where, at the edge of Putney Road, a spray-painted sign declares trees available for $29.95.

Danjou, whose tree farm is in Canaan, in the Northeast Kingdom on the Quebec border, has been coming off the mountain down to Brattleboro to sell his trees for the past 11 years.


“I always liked Brattleboro, and I enjoy the people here. I like the setup. I've got a room here from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until the trees sell out,” he says.

Danjou will stay open every day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. until his trees are gone - and, from the sound of things, that time will be coming very soon.

Eight days after he set up shop, only about 200 trees remain of the 600 that he brought.

Trees take about eight to 10 years to get from those seedlings to the trees you see here for sale. Their price per foot reflects those years of effort. Younger trees are smaller and sell for less, but the older and wider they become, the most expensive they are.

“We trim the trees year-round, only stopping for two weeks in June when they are budding and are still soft. We use a knife and cut 'em the other 50 weeks of the year,” he says in his clear Vermont dialect.

“Some of them, we let get up to 12- or 16-footers, but most people want them between 6 and 8 feet,” he observes.

As a wholesaler, Danjou's trees make it as far south as Virginia and as far north as Maine. His stand on Putney Road is the only place where he sells directly to the public.

He describes extra demand for trees, just as there was last year.

“Actually, there's been a bigger demand each year for the past several years. Overall, there are less and less trees in Vermont being sold. I expect I won't have any more to sell come this weekend,” he said.

When asked how long he's been selling trees, he pulls his mask off his face, and yanks the grey hairs along the bottom of his chin, thinking the question over in his mind.

“I've been in retailing trees since I was 14 years old,” he finally says. “That's a career of almost 50 years.”

He gives a tour of the lot. As he strolls past racks and racks of trees, he says, “Our farm was started by my Granddaddy, then my father. Now it's mine, but my son, who lives in California, is coming home to take over.”

“My other son, that guy over there,” he says as he points to a younger likeness of himself, “already has his own tree farm.”

“When I first bought the property, years ago,” he continued, “I planted everything I could; 165,000 trees went in the ground - little bitty things.”

“And three years later, I'd planted 400 acres,” he says smiling. “Then we just kept going from there.”

Lots of patience needed

Why are there fewer trees?

Danjou believes that the “old timers” - and he includes himself in this category of tree farmers - are selling out, and the land has gone wild. If it isn't planted, it will take a lot more work to get it back to being a tree farm.

“We need younger farmers to start businesses before all that good farmland sells out,” he says.

“And then this year, the trucking rates have gone sky high,” he adds. “Transportation companies have added an additional $300 fee to each load I ship.”

He points to the demand for truckers. “Everybody needs to hire help, and the gas prices have gone up, too,” he says, shaking his head and kicking some sawdust on the ground.

These additional expenses are being passed along to the consumer.

Prices have increased between 10 and 30 percent over last year, not only in Vermont but nationwide.

“I have one dealer in Massachusetts that I sell to wholesale who ran out of trees,” he says. “He drove up here to this lot where he knew I'd be, and he paid the same rate as any family coming over here for a tree.”

“Most of what he bought was around $50 a tree,” he continues. “Then he trucked the trees himself back down south and slapped another $50 on the price.”

“His trees are selling out at $100 apiece, and he'd buy more if I had them!” Danjou says.

Rotary sells out its supply

Just down the road in the Brattleboro Bowl parking lot, Carl Lynde and Jenifer Ambler of the Brattleboro Rotary Club, have been donating their time for the club's annual tree sale.

“Our supplier is from northern Vermont, says Lynde. “He's very good to us. He had unlimited demand from his metro clients, but we've worked with him for several years, so he saved some trees for us.”

“We were in touch from early summer to make sure we'd have trees to sell,” Lynde continues. “He told me he was struggling to find help to care for his trees, and he told me that last year many tree farms oversold. He made sure we had trees, and they were priced fairly, considering the market.”

“We sold 350 trees last year, and this year we have 300 to sell,” he said. “We're very grateful to him.”

Ambler adds, “Prices had to go up, but most people aren't objecting to that; many are willing to pay because the money goes to local scholarships. We have a loyal following year after year.”

Years ago, Brattleboro Rotary used to sell twice as many trees. Now there just aren't enough.

“Supply chain is the reason we have fewer trees. Our farmer has been hit with higher shipping fees, too,” says Ambler.

Their supplier has always sold at a discount to the Rotary Club, but Lynde and Ambler say they couldn't swing as much of a discount this year.

For a while, the club thought they might have to drive to their wholesaler to pick the trees up themselves, due to the lack of available trucking.

By Monday, the group would be down to eight trees. By Tuesday afternoon, three club members would be sweeping up the leftover needles - all that was left of the trees this year.

Christmas trees have brought the Brattleboro Rotary Club money that they've now invested in an endowment. The club has donated more than $500,000 in scholarships over the years.

Lynde mentioned that since the goal of selling the trees is to fund scholarships, the group is still accepting donations despite the sellout. Contributions can be mailed to Brattleboro Rotary Club, P.O. Box 336, Brattleboro, VT 05301.

Keeping the customer satisfied

Over at the Elysian Hills Tree Farm in East Dummerston, part of Walker Farm owned and operated by Karen and Jack Manix, trees are also selling quickly.

“We have local folks, and we also have visitors each year from Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts,” Jack Manix says.

Elysian Hills has around 20 designated plots of trees in varying stages of growth, and each year, a new plot is ready for Christmas cutting. Guests are welcomed to come and cut their own tree; others are available on racks at the farm.

“We really enjoy having people visit us,” Manix says. “We also sell fruits and vegetables in the summer, so this is a great way to end our season.”

“Everybody loves Christmas,” he adds. “Folks are always in a good mood. We offer a cup of hot cider, candy canes, and keep a fire going, so it's really cozy. People are looking for things to do outside and picking out your Christmas tree is a great family activity.”

The soggy summer allowed the trees to gain almost two years of growth in one year.

“They just love the water, so this year's crop is looking really fine,” says Manix, “The trees really put on some height this summer.”

Like all the other growers and sellers, Elysian Hills' prices had to increase this year.

“During the recession a few years back, lots of farmers got out of the business,” Manix says. “It takes at least eight years to grow a tree, so in some ways, the prices this year reflect supply and demand. It's not like broccoli where you put more seeds in the ground and you get more plants that year.”

“Trees take time to grow, and it will be a while before we growers can meet the current demand for trees,” he continues. “Plus, last year there was a tremendous amount of tree sales. Everybody stayed home because of Covid, and more people might have put up a tree because of that. Tree sales were up 20 percent nationwide. This year, they are already up [an additional] 11 percent.”

Costs have also gone up.

“We're already buying what we need for next summer's fruits and vegetables. The plastic that we use on the ground and the pots have all gone up in price by 30 percent, and the propane to heat the greenhouses has risen by 50 percent. You have to make those costs up somewhere,” says Manix.

“We've got a great crew, and I want to pay them a good wage to keep them working for us as well,” he adds, noting “all the signs and advertising out there to find good help.”

In past years, Elysian Hills has been able to stay open from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, selling between 1,000 and 1,200 trees a year.

“I don't think we're going to be able to do that this year,” says Manix.

“There's only so many trees that are ready to be cut,” he says. “We can't start cutting from another lot. We can only sell what's been grown. It's kind of like a bank. There is a penalty for early withdrawal.”

“The nice thing about trees is that it's a sustainable crop. I say it's like 'bagging a vegetarian deer.' You chop down a tree, you tie it on the roof of your car, and you know that next year there will be another one for you to chop down,” he says, grinning.

Manix tells one more story, about one man “who drove up from down south to cut his own tree.”.

The customer told him, “You're charging $65 for this tree? They're getting double for that in New York!” he had said, laughing.

“That's the only complaint we've gotten,” Manix says.

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