“My sons say they can’t imagine anything sadder than going to open a plastic box and [putting up] a plastic tree for Christmas,” said David Healey, a 40-year Howard County resident. “We always have live trees.”
Of course, the Healeys are a bit biased. The family — David and wife Marianne Healey, sons Mike and Tim, and daughter-in-law Kristen — own and operate Greenway Farms, one of three cut-your-own tree farms in Howard County. The others are Browning Tree Farm in Mount Airy and Triadelphia Lake View Farm in Glenelg.
Prime days for the dozens of Christmas tree farms across Maryland begin the day after Thanksgiving, and on Sunday the Healeys’ 20-acre, 15,000-tree farm off Route 144 in Woodbine was bustling. (A second location is a few miles away on Reps Road off Monticello Drive.)
On one side of the private road leading to the farm, Mike Healey and a crew of workers, mostly volunteers from Glenelg High School, shook off loose needles and wrapped fresh-cut trees for customers.
Inside the greenhouse, Kristen Healey, Tim’s wife, sold poinsettias grown on the farm along with wreaths and refreshments. There was a model train set up inside for children to view, and a seating area for families.
Among those searching for the perfect Christmas tree was Greg Miller, who brought his family to the farm from Jessup. He said he’s been coming to Greenway for years because of the selection, which includes Canaan fir, Douglas fir, and blue and white spruce.
“We’ve been to a couple other places, but we like the shaping of the trees here,” said Miller, 36, as son James, 5, and daughter Kate, 2, chased each other around the tree they selected.
“We try to support as many local businesses as we can,” he said, “and it’s nice to have a family tradition.”
David Healey said he started growing Christmas trees in the 1970s as a way to make a little extra money. It complements the farm’s spring business, selling flowers, bedding plants, herbs and vegetables.
The sale of Christmas trees and other holiday inventory accounts for 30 percent of Greenway’s business, he said.
“It’s a pretty iffy business,” Healey said of holiday trees, which can take up to a decade to mature from a sapling. “I don’t think it’s as popular as it used to be, but some people love it, and it’s part of their Christmas.”
The Maryland Department of Agriculture sees Christmas tree growers as an important piece of the state’s agriculture portfolio. The department’s website notes that according to a 2012 state agriculture census, there are more than 170 Christmas tree growers in Maryland, with nearly 2,200 acres in production. There are more than two dozen farms in the five counties around Baltimore.
On Thursday, the department will launch its annual promotional campaign to urge Marylanders to buy fresh trees.
Kathy Zimmerman, agricultural development manager for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, emphasized the importance of supporting local farms and businesses.
“The more money we can keep in the county, the better for the community as a whole,” Zimmerman said.
She said the market for fresh Christmas trees is experiencing a rebound in reaction to artificial trees, many of which are made in China.
“People are going back to that idea of the fresh Christmas tree they can smell and enjoy,” Zimmerman said. “We have seen an increase in that.”
Jim Schmitt of Silver Spring made his inaugural visit to Greenway Farms on Sunday. A Minnesota native, Schmitt said he has fond memories of cutting his own tree as a child, and he wanted to share that experience with his own children.
“It’s good for building family memories,” he said. “It’s a different experience than going to a lot and picking out a tree.”
Glenwood resident Heidi Gaasch is a family friend of the Healeys, and her daughter, Clara Cersovsky, 13, helps out during the holidays. Gaasch said she loves coming to the farm because it’s “a very family-oriented business.”
“It’s not overly commercialized, which in today’s day and age is rare,” she said. “That’s important to us, especially in today’s society when everything is Wal-Mart and Target.”
Kristen Healey said the business aims to create a fun and memorable experience for customers.
“It’s more of a family experience,” she said. “We’ve had the same customers for the last 35 years that have come back to us. We’ve seen their kids grow, they’ve seen our kids grow.
“Our business has grown, but it’s based in the community,” she said.