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Locals find Christmas trees despite national shortage

Flurries of snow drizzled over Ukleja's Christmas Tree farm in Quaker Hill on Sunday as families walked the grounds searching for a tree to cut down and take home.

The 6.2-acre farm behind owner Vinnie Ukleja's home on 81 Old Colchester Road has been around for 31 years. Ukleja said he had more than 1,000 customers last year and expects about the same this year.

He said he is prepared, having grown an abundance of trees and acquired an additional 800 Balsam-Fraser Fir trees, a Christmas favorite and species he does not grow, from a supplier in New Hampshire. 

Other Christmas tree farms and businesses across the nation have not been as lucky.

The American Christmas Tree Association has advised shoppers this year to buy their Christmas trees early due to a shortage caused by extreme weather in the Pacific Northwest and supply chain issues in the U.S. As a result, the pricing of trees has also gone up. But farms and businesses in southeastern Connecticut say they have been able to obtain the trees they need.

On Sunday morning, Jerry Adille of Groton said he liked Ukleja's farm as it was easy to pick the trees and the price of cutting one down was lower compared to others in the region. His family tries to visit a different farm every year and Ukleja's came highly recommended.

Adille was with his wife and four sons at Ukleja's farm. He said he was happy to have the whole family together, participating in their annual tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree.

Ukleja said there is a new gingerbread house his wife, Susan Ukleja, painted and decorated for children to enjoy this year while their families choose a tree. The farm is also hosting a food drive for the third year in a row, and Santa and Mrs. Claus are visiting the farm for Family Day on Dec. 11.

Once home to expansive cow pastures, 64-acre Oakwood Farms in Preston has fields of Christmas trees for people to choose from and cut down. 

Owner David Capacchione said Sunday he sells his trees at market prices and tries to be consistent with prices at other farms. He said there have been price increases this year in fertilizer, equipment to maintain the tree fields and taxes since the start of the pandemic, all of which affect prices for his customers.

Cappacchione, started selling trees three weeks before Thanksgiving, said customers seem to be showing up earlier than usual this year. 

Lauren Giroux of East Lyme has visited the farm each year since she was a little girl. She said she had not noticed a significant change in pricing.

Giroux said she loves the experience of walking through the fields, picking out a "tree with character" and decorating it with the family. She said Cappacchione and his staff are "super friendly and accommodating."

Cappacchione said he has built up his customer base over the years and enjoys seeing those he met as children now bring their own children to the farm.

Unlike the farms, local supply stores are dependent on imported trees. Fleming's Feed in Stonington and Preston is a store that sells hundreds of fresh pre-cut Christmas trees during the holidays. Rob Dyer is manager of the Preston store and helps oversee both locations during the holidays.

Dyer said Sunday the store typically settles on its supply of trees in July or August. This year, Dyer said, he contacted hundreds of growers in North Carolina, the biggest producer for Fraser Fir trees, but some had said they had sold out as early as April. He also contacted growers in South Carolina, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York but was unsuccessful in accumulating the number  of trees a business of his size needs.

It took a couple of weeks, but Dyer said he was able to find a supplier from Canada to supply them with 1,400 trees.

"I plan on locking in our trees in February for next year," Dyer said.

j.vazquez@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Aspyn Dube's name.

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