Families search farms for perfect Christmas tree

Jim Roberts, left, and Bob Morrison, owner of Caywood Christmas Tree Farm, move a freshly cut Christmas tree after Roberts chose the tree for his home. The farm northeast of Marietta has been selling locally grown trees for 25 years. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

MARIETTA — Bob Morrison sees many of the same holiday customers year after year. They’re the people who love the aroma of fresh cut pine as part of the Christmas experience.

On Friday afternoon, two of those people, Jim Roberts and his daughter Embrey Roberts of Marietta, were looking over the selection of cut trees at the bottom of the steep slope leading up to the forested ridge on Morrison’s 40-acre tree farm. They chose a deep green, perfectly conical 8-foot tree, and Roberts and Morrison began moving it over to the needle-shaker — a machine that knocks the loose foliage off the tree before it heads down the road.

Roberts said he’s been coming to the farm for about 12 Christmas seasons.

“I’ve always wanted to cut my own,” he said.

“We’ve been doing this since I was little,” Embrey added. She’s now a communications and marketing major at Marietta College and a soccer player on the college team.

Jim Roberts and his daughter Embrey Roberts watch as Bob Morrison, owner of Caywood Christmas Tree Farm northeast of Marietta, gets ready to hoist the tree they picked onto their vehicle Friday afternoon. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

“We’ve got a great room with high ceilings, so we need a little bit of height,” Roberts said. “And, we’ve got new kittens this year.”

Morrison, 63, said he first got an inclination for the Christmas tree business while working on a tree farm for a man in Nelsonville who would eventually become his father-in-law. He bought the 40-acre property a few miles northeast of Marietta in 1985 and had his first crop of trees seven years later.

“I like being able to offer this kind of family experience,” he said. “We get lots of families, new married couples, some of the people now are third generation.”

They can wander the forest and cut their own trees using bow saws or pick one from a cluster that the farm cuts and sets up at the parking lot.

The farm now has 10,000 trees, Morrison said, and it takes eight to 10 years for a tree to mature, he said. The business requires advance planning.

“You don’t just go out and plant trees,” he said. “You have to think about how you’re going to market and sell them.”

Marietta, he said, is a strong market for fresh trees. The city has many old homes that have 10-foot ceilings, and new homes often have vaulted ceilings, so there is a demand for trees taller than those available at store lots, he said. Most of his customers go out looking for seven- or eight-foot trees, but some are looking for trees up to 15-feet high.

Barb Lowe, who has worked at the farm 18 years, said business starts up in November, when customers can go out, pick a tree and have it pre-tagged for pick-up in December. The farm opens for the season on the Friday after Thanksgiving, she said. This year they’ve seen people from Sistersville, Cairo, Nitro, Ripley and Columbus in addition to local customers, she said. Many were drawn by the farm’s Facebook page, she said.

In the high hill country up Caywood Road, the weather tends to be colder than it is in town, and the office at the farm had coffee, tea and Tootsie Rolls on hand for customers.

The farm is more than a business for Morrison.

“I like to talk to people,” he said. “Some of these folks, I only see them once a year. Jim Roberts, I used to coach his boy at soccer. Now I just see him at Christmas, and we catch up on things.”

The farm keeps selling trees through Dec. 23.