Tag Archives: virginia grown

Meet Nuckols Christmas Tree Plantation.

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Richard Nuckols has memories tracing back to several decades ago when he, his father, and his two brothers spent summers shaping Scotch Pines with hand shears. “I like shaping trees, but I’ll tell you, that was drudgery right there,” he says. The tree farm has grown and changed since his father established it in 1966 on a properly in Cumberland County bordering Route 60. Richard took over the operation in 1994 after his dad passed away and, for one thing, he now uses a gas-powered yule trimmer to make tree shaping a more manageable summertime task.

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The farm used to be a wholesale operation when Richard was young, but choose-and-cut later became the better option for keeping the farm in business. The transition was a sensible one, according to David Smith, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension agent for Cumberland County who provides information and support to Richard and other farm producers in the county. “Nuckols Christmas Tree Plantation is one of our oldest wholesale-turned-retail operations. Making the transition from wholesale to retail was a natural occurrence given the fact that tree prices basically have remained the same over the past decade,” he says.

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Richard Nuckols (left) and Extension agent David Smith (right), standing in a planting of Blue Ice Cyrpress, discuss soil fertility and soil testing on the farm.

Growers who switch to retail production find that marketing trees is a task of its own. “One of the biggest challenges with local agricultural retail businesses is the transition to websites to capture on-line sales and shoppers,” says David Smith. Richard successfully navigated this transition recently, creating a website with photos and information about the trees to reach more customers searching for the farm online. The farm also takes advantage of the visibility offered by the “Virginia Grown” marketing program coordinated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Richard is also supported through his membership in the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association. “Producers affiliating with associations such as Christmas tree associations receive the benefit of additional public exposure. Because associations have the support of multiple producers they should take the lead to help producers capture on-line traffic,” adds Smith.

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During Richard’s childhood, the plantation grew White Pines and Scotch Pines. Today, offerings include Leyland Cypress, Canaan Fir, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, Scotch Pine, White Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce, Blue Ice Cypress, and fresh-cut Fraser Fir. When it comes to needle size, needle retention, fragrance, size, shape, and feel, the farm has a tree for every taste and need. “If you have an obnoxious cat, that’s a good tree,” he jokes in reference to his Blue Spruce.

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Some trees are more sensitive to warm soil temperatures than others, so Richard strategically takes advantage of the shade offered by the woods bordering the farm. Others, like the cypress, prefer a more basic soil than other trees, so Richard plants them in an area that has been amended with lime. He has found that the trees need no irrigation and little to no fertilizer.

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Fertilizing trees may not be a high priority, but make no mistake about the maintenance requirements for a Christmas tree farm. Growing trees is year-round job with extra time demands not just during the holiday season but also during the summer. Tree shearing dates vary by tree because each type has different growth habits, but once shearing begins, it is a seven-day-per-week, eight-hour-per-day commitment.

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When he is not shaping trees, Richard must scout for pests like bagworms and scale which can be destructive on any kind of tree farm. By using predator insects to control scale in recent years, he has noticed a deep reduction in his need to spray trees, and lately he has been able to keep the bagworms in check by removing them as he sees them. The deer are another more difficult story. They can kill two dozen of his trees in a year just by rubbing them, but thankfully most of his larger trees recover from the damage or can be salvaged for wreath material if they become unfit for sale. In fact, wreaths form another portion of the farm’s revenue stream.

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Planting is another time-consuming annual farm chore. Richard has to plant nearly two thousand trees each year so that several hundred trees per year will be ready for sale further down the road. Of the two thousand initially planted, only a portion ultimately survives from seedling to sale due to environmental conditions, pests, and other stressors. Some, like White Pine, may show nearly 95% percent survival, while other more difficult trees may have a 25% survival rate. To further complicate planning the planting, some trees such as the Cypress may grow far more quickly than their peers, and Richard must account for the fact that all trees take several years to reach a saleable size.

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When he approaches the Christmas season, he projects his inventory by counting the number of trees that meet his standards for quality. Those which are too large, too small, have bare spots, or look stressed do not make his count for potential saleable trees, but he has found that customers sometimes surprise him with their choices. One time, a customer chose a tree which was yellowing on the bottom and green at the top. He cautioned the buyer that a different tree would look healthier and last longer, but this person insisted that he had found the perfect Green Bay Packers-themed tree.

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The operation opens for sales each year the day after Thanksgiving, and Richard says that opening weekend was the busiest weekend of the holiday season at the farm last year. What does the future hold for the Nuckols Christmas Tree Plantation? Hopefully plenty of healthy new trees and fewer deer are on the horizon. 2014 is already shaping up to be a good sales season so long as the rain holds off on the busy weekends. Richard also has tradition his side—as long as families continue to choose fresh-cut, Virginia Grown trees during the holidays, his farm full of carefully-tended, beautifully-shaped trees will remain a fixture in Central Virginia’s landscape.

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Additional Resources for Readers:

Nuckols Christmas Tree Plantation webpage

Virginia Grown searchable directory

Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association webpage

Introduction to Growing Christmas Trees in Virginia publication

Meet Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market.

100_0810 (1024x768)Stop by the Amelia County fairgrounds on a Tuesday afternoon and you will be met by a colorful array of fresh vegetables, canned jams and preserves, bright flowers, and plenty of flavorful homemade foods and local goods. For the past few years, Amelia has gone without a permanent, centralized farmers’ market, and most people had to travel to on-farm stands or more distant markets in the nearby region to purchase locally-grown foods.  Thanks to a collaboration between several churches, a board of motivated community leaders, and numerous county supporters, the Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market came together in the spring of 2013, and after a successful season-long run, it is set to open for an extended season in 2014, running from 4-7 PM at the fairgrounds from April 1st through the end of October.

100_0813 (1024x768)Why the name “Barter Town?” Consumers and vendors have the option to buy, sell, and trade goods and services. In 2013, it was not uncommon to see trades between vendors and consumer for eggs, vegetables, plants, and other goods. For-sale items like local breads, vegetables, cheeses, jams, sausage, plants, crafts, and herbal products retained their popularity each week.

100_0823 (1024x768)Due to their proximity to buyers in Richmond and its suburbs, Amelia and its neighboring counties are also home to numerous “direct-to-market” farmers who sell goods straight to consumers through venues like Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions, or CSAs, as well as on-farm stores and stands and weekly markets across the region.

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100_0827 (1024x768)Not all of the region’s farm operations are suited to local face-to-face marketing. For example, some crop producers may rely on contracts with grain buyers, and other farms may supply to wholesale outlets or custom buyers. However, direct marketing is the bread and butter for many small-scale, specialty, and niche crop producers in this region as well as many new and beginning farmers who have a diverse set of goods but produce small amounts of each. Even though most direct-market operations sell their products through multiple outlets and go to markets several days of week, close-to-home markets like Barter Town allow producers to keep some of their goods inside the county and serve their own neighbors within the community.

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Local residents took to the stage each week to provide music for customers at Barter Town.

Last year’s inaugural summer season at Barter Town market drew crowds each evening even during the hottest summer days for a time of conversation, community, shopping, and enjoyment of the many musical performances that took place each week. The market also featured some food samples, food preparation demonstrations, and a weekly contest for prizes in categories such as “Ugliest Vegetable” or “Cutest Pet Photo.” Many participants also took part in the “$10 Pledge” campaign offered state-wide by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which offered customers a chance to win prizes for spending  $10 each week at local markets and keeping track of purchases using a loyalty card. Because Barter Town exists to serve the community rather than make a profit, support from consumers and community sponsors last year played a vital role in the market’s success as it came off the ground. 

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FFA youth, who participate in agricultural education, sold locally-produced honey last season to support their activities.

Barter Town is just one of the many up-and-coming markets in central and southside Virginia contributing to the growth of “direct marketing” of agricultural goods. Thanks to an increased interest in local foods, small-scale and specialty producers are able to use markets to extend their reach in the community, build a steady supply of willing customers, and make an impact on the local economy. Furthermore, these markets provide a valuable venue for growers and buyers to meet face-to-face to discuss farm production practices and build confidence in the agricultural industry. Barter Town is one of many markets in Virginia proving that great things happen when a community has a vested interest in its own health and success and a motivation to preserve and enhance local agriculture.

100_0840 (1024x768)Additional Resources for Readers

Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market Webpage

Amelia Barter Town Farmers’ Market Facebook Page

 Resources for finding local foods near you, including farm stands, subscription services, CSAs, cooperatives, and markets:

  •    Buy Fresh Buy Local Directory: You can also pick up a printed Buy Fresh Buy Local guide for your locality by visiting your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office.
  •   There are numerous other places you can find local foods, including sites such as Local Harvest.
  •  A note to farm and food producers: Sites like this offer free advertising. Visit them for information about adding your listing, or seek help through your local Virginia Cooperative Extension agent.