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franklin county times

Treasured tradition: Belgreen Christmas Tree Farm keeps nostalgia alive

FRANKLIN LIVING— Artificial Christmas trees have been popular for decades. Whether because they can be decorated earlier without risk of dying before Christmas Day; because they don’t annoy with their falling needles and sticky sap; because they don’t need to be watered; because they can be reused from year to year; or for any number of other reasons, these “fake trees” have long been a popular choice over their living counterparts.

And yet…

There’s something relentlessly nostalgic about the idea of going out into a brisk fall day with the family, choosing a fresh evergreen, cutting it down and bringing it home for the holidays. There’s the feel, the scent, the memories made – keeping a “real tree” the top choice for many, especially those with a sentimental nature.

It’s that seasonal sentimentality the Blanton family has captured with their Christmas Tree Farm in Belgreen.

“When I was a kid, me and daddy would always go cut a live tree in the woods, and I’ve always loved a real Christmas tree,” explained Casey Blanton, who operates the local tree farm with his wife Emily. “To me, it’s all about tradition.”

It was 2014 when the Blantons planted their first crop of trees, but it wasn’t until 2020 that they were able to welcome families to the farm for the first year of selling.

“It’s taken forever to grow them,” said Blanton – a hurdle he didn’t anticipate when he first dreamed up the tree farm. “I didn’t expect it to take that long.” Cultivating has been a difficult and time-consuming challenge. “We just don’t have the right soil. I think it’s just got too much rock and too much limestone.”

Despite the obstacles, the Blantons sold about four dozen trees in 2020 – the trees that were first planted in 2014. The family planted again in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and Blanton said they will continue to sell each year until those four plantings are gone – but likely not after that. “I’ve just been waiting to see how these did. I didn’t want to keep planting if they weren’t going to produce,” he explained. “I don’t know how much longer I will do it just because of the timeframe it has taken.”

For 2021, however, the tree farm is nearly ready to open for business. Blanton said they will likely open around Thanksgiving, and they will have 40-50 of their Leland Cypresses available for those seeking to cut a live tree for the season.

Although the tree farm was Casey’s dream, it’s been a family effort. “I think it’s something unique,” said Emily, a Belgreen native who teaches fourth grade at Belgreen. “There’s no other tree farm in Franklin County, so I’d love to continue it, but they just don’t grow as as fast as we want them to, and they are so much work.”

Besides the work of selling the trees, cultivation has required fertilizing and mowing around the trees, as well as trimming them twice a year to keep them shapely as they have grown. Casey said he planted trees 10 feet apart in his 2-3 acre field. “That way you can still get your mower between them and take care of them,” he explained. “It helps when you’re pruning them too – so you can see what you’re doing and not have them bunched up together.”

The couple has had help from their 12-year-old daughter Chloe, and son Easton, 3, is also part of the memories made. “We cut our own tree two years ago from the farm, and Chloe was excited about it because she’s been watching them grow for years,” Casey said. “Some of the later ones, she helped plant.”

Most of the Blantons’ trees are in the 7-9 foot range, with a few 10-footers, and they run $35-50. “I’m just trying to get my money back, break even and then make a little bit,” Casey said. “I just did it for a hobby.”

To purchase a tree from the Blanton Farm, people can friend the couple on Facebook or keep an eye out for signs or advertisements around town as the season begins. The family maintains a more intimate selling experience by primarily welcoming people to the farm on an appointment basis – since the best part has been “just getting to see the excitement on the kids’ faces and the families being there together,” Emily said. People can get a jumpstart on the season by coming out to tag the tree they want prior to Thanksgiving; those details will be made available via Facebook as well.

Although the Christmas tree farm is likely an endeavor with an expiration date, the Blantons will have plenty of other efforts to keep them occupied. When he isn’t working the trees, Casey is a poultry farmer for Pilgrim’s, and he said he hopes to one day have cattle – like his father and grandfather – and maybe some goats. The couple also enjoys fishing, with Cedar Creek being a favorite spot.

To find out more about the tree farm or make an appointment, call Casey at 256-810-4147.