Cut Your Own by Mark Adams
A nice write up by Mark Adams from Northern Dutchess News.
Abel’s Tree Farm is number one on Dutchess Tourism’s list of 16 cut-your-own Christmas tree farms. Maybe it’s because Abel’s grows 30,000 gorgeous spruce and fir trees on their 190-acre farm in Verbank. Or because they are the first local tree farm to be awarded the “New York Grown and Certified” label. Or maybe it’s because the list is alphabetical. Close to 100,000 Christmas trees will be cut down in Dutchess County this month, and 100,000 will no doubt be replanted next spring. Some local tree farms are open every day until Dec. 25 – Battenfeld’s, Big Rock, Fabulous Firs, Bilmar, Primrose Hill, Rawls, Saltsman, Hahn’s and Wonderland, for example. Others – BJ’s, Evergreen, Market Farm, Murphy Crest, Plains View, Solvang and Abel’s are weekends only. Sue and I stopped by Abel’s Tree Farm on a busy Sunday to check out the scene. We couldn’t tie a tree to the roof of our convertible, but around 200 other people did that day.
Husband-and-wife team Steve and Kim Abel direct the operation with lots of help from friends and family. The farm has been in Steve’s family since 1850, with an emphasis on sheep and hay, until Steve’s dad planted a few thousand spruce trees as part of a reforestation initiative sponsored by the government. Starting about 1975, he cut a few down to sell as Christmas trees and the idea caught on.
I was intrigued by Abel’s “New York Grown and Certified” status, which is the main reason I wanted to see the operation. My greenhouse business is also “New York Grown and Certified,” but not many people know about the program. Steve found out about it when he delivered a few trees to the state capitol in Albany, and decided to apply.
In order to be certified, in addition to growing his trees in New York, he follows an environmental stewardship protocol monitored by the N.Y. Dept. of Environmental Conservation. So far, it seems to be working out. I never saw such a healthy stand of trees.
Spruces and firs are the main types of trees grown on local farms. Deer don’t normally eat spruce. Abel’s grows blue, white, Norway, Serbian and Meyers spruce. The firs – balsam and Canaan –are deer favorites, so Steve grows them close to his house where he can keep an eye on them. Just last year he fenced in a 5-acre plot and planted Douglas, Frasier and concolor firs, which should be ready to harvest soon. I asked Steve to name his favorite tree: “Maple!”
There’s lots going on at Abel’s Tree Farm besides tree cutting. A pair of local alpaca farms – Small Paws and Copper Star Alpaca – have set up shop at the center of the action, with live alpacas and loads of furry mittens, scarves and hats for sale. Barbara Crosso of Copper Star explains that the partnership between the two farms ensures that alpacas will be available on every one of the 11 weekend days between now and Christmas.
Inside the barn, just past a display of colorful handmade wreaths, guests can help themselves to free hot chocolate. Steve’s daughter Erin, with a 2-year pastry chef degree from the Culinary Institute of America, bakes a cornucopia of tasty treats. People stop by for the pastries and then decide to cut a tree.
Researching the various websites and Facebook pages of Dutchess County’s Christmas tree farms, I found a mishmash of information, with very little about prices. From what I could tell, Abel’s, which lists its price, is the most reasonable in the area. To keep your tree fresh, use a tree stand that holds water, and add water daily.
Mark Adams is an agricultural advisor to the Dutchess County Executive, Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, Dutchess County B.O.C.E.S. and Cornell University.