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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    After Thanksgiving, locals embark on hunt for their perfect Christmas Tree

    Chris Bailey cuts lower branches off a Christmas Tree as his son, from right, Beckett, 7, Brooks, 1, and wife Danielle, of Waterford, look on at Maple Lane Farms in Preston on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Christina Rivadeneira and her daughter Aubrey Cruz, 15, walk their dogs Oso and Nacho as they look for a Christmas Trees at Maple Lane Farms in Preston on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Dennis Duhamel, of Montville, holds onto a Christmas Tree as his son Brendan makes the last cuts at Maple Lane Farms in Preston on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. They were joined his wife Karen Duhamel and other son Stephen. “We wanted to get out here and do this before the boys went back to school,” said Karen. She mentioned they’d been coming to this farm since the boys were babies. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Visitors walk through rows of Christmas Trees to cut down at Maple Lane Farms in Preston on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Chris Frye gets leaves out for under their Christmas Tree as family members, from left, Christopher , 4, Popy, 2, Whiskey, 9 months, and Elizabeth, all of Ledyard, look on at Maple Lane Farms in Preston on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    All around Southeastern Connecticut, it was a busy Thanksgiving weekend for local Christmas tree farms.

    “We could clear cut this whole farm,” Allyn Brown, owner of Maple Lane Farms in Preston, said Sunday morning as cars filed in and out of the parking lot, their roofs strapped with temporary fir fixtures.

    “It’s really managing the plantation and what you can cut,” he added.

    Meanwhile, on the opening weekend of Christmas tree sales at the farm, Brown could be found proudly mixing large quantities of hot cocoa and pouring them into a water cooler.

    As people huddled in coats and stood watching the fir trees go through a baler which cocooned them in plastic netting, his cocoa, along with the tray of butter cookies that sat beside it, were popular attractions. Brown said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm had to do away with the treats, resurrecting them this year for an entirely revamped tree-shopping experience.

    This year, for the first time in 45 years, Maple Lane began booking reservations. The farm takes the number of trees they’re going to sell for the year and rations them out over four weekends, he added.

    Brown said that last Thanksgiving weekend, the farm did a whole year's worth of sales in just a few days.

    “We had so many people we couldn’t handle the crowd,” Brown said, adding that the masses were “a bit dangerous.”

    Otherwise, for the large group of patrons who were gathered on the 325-acre farm, the process for selecting and cutting their trees was still the same, Brown said. Grab one of the farm’s hacksaws, find your tree, cut it down and flag one of the attendants zipping around in an ATV.

    From there, the attendants smoothly stuck the tree in a “shaker” to get off those pesky loose needles that get all over the floor, baled the trees and leave them on a rack where their new owners would bring them home.

    “Then by the time they have their hot chocolate and cookies it’s time to go home,” added Brown.

    The price was $80 for any size, Brown said.

    “It’s an amazing time. We do this every year,” said Bob Pellerin, of East Lyme, who’s been coming with his family for about 30 years. He was the “guinea pig” for Maple Lane’s new reservation system.

    Pellerin, wrangling a group of 32 immediate and extended family members into a photo slightly reminiscent of Raphael’s “School of Athens,” bellowed out in his best Santa Claus impersonation: “Merry Christmas!”

    As the children sat at the forefront of the photo, they donned silver garlands. On the table behind them were half-drank cups of cocoa.

    “The kids look forward to it and that’s all that matters,” Pellerin said.

    “It’s a great time, because everybody’s happy,” said Brown. “So it’s a great business to be in.”

    Another of those businesses, Yetter Road Christmas Tree Farm in Mystic, has served up trees to the public for 49 years. Tom Umrysz, son of owner Lee Umrysz, said among a similarly packed crowd Sunday it seems people are shopping for trees earlier and earlier in the holiday season.

    “Now it’s like the second the turkey is off the table, they’re buying a tree,” the younger Umrysz said.

    Umrysz added that because the trees take 10 years to grow, the farm is always working to keep up with high demand.

    “It’s a year-round job to only be open for one month,” he said about the work, which involves fertilizing the soil and managing pests throughout that time.

    In the 10-acre field filled with trees of all different sizes, there were some patches designated for saplings that rose no more than a foot from the ground.

    Off to one side, there were pre-cut trees, some of which were brought from other locations, Umrysz said.

    If shoppers found a tree they liked in the field, a helper would come with a chainsaw, chop it down and throw it in the back of a trailer attached to an ATV. Alternatively, shoppers could tag the trees and arrange a pickup at a later time.

    Any tree under 8 feet cost $65, with an additional $10 charged for each extra foot added, Umrysz said.

    He said when it comes to people’s specifications for what they’re looking for in a tree, the process is very similar to selecting a partner for a relationship.

    “Some people like a perfectly shaped tree. Some people like them wild looking. Some people like them full of holes,” Umrysz said.

    “Everyone’s tree needs are different,” said Jim Holley, of Mystic, as he searched the fields with his wife. “Ours has to be a little bit narrow and it can’t be too tall.”

    “We’re looking for one that speaks to use,” Patty Magowen, of Mystic, said as they circled around a tree that was “taller” but “not as round.”

    “It’s perfect all the way around,” she said, concluding that it would fit in her home.

    d.drainville@theday.com

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