Owner Jeff Hale’s Journey from Cattle Rancher to Tree Farmer
Owner Jeff Hale wrapping the first-ever tree to leave Hale Tree Farm, circa 1990.
It was a bit of a culture shock when I moved from Montana to Maryland. The county where I grew up was three times as large in area as Baltimore County, which had 600,000 people in 1980. By contrast, Petroleum County had 600. People are packed a lot closer together in Maryland.
The other big difference I noticed was the rainfall. Annual rainfall near Baltimore was 35 inches per year. Back home it was 9. So I figured even a mediocre farmer like me could grow stuff. I tried a few things. Planted ginseng in the woods. I’ve never seen a plant in the last 30 years. I figured Paulownia (princess) trees would be easy; I saw them growing out of the sidewalk on the way to work. Mine all died. But the evergreens grew. SHAZAM! I was a Christmas tree farmer.
I had planted the first trees in 1984 when we bought our little chunk of Maryland and sold the first ones in 1990. In the early years we sold mostly white pines. We also sold blue, white and Norway spruce. When we started getting complaints about needles dropping, we transitioned from spruce to fir. In descending order of sales, we sell Douglas, Fraser and Concolor. We’ve also got Balsam and Canaan firs in the ground now.
It’s been fun. We’ve never made any money at it, but we’ve gotten tons of satisfaction. Other than the 5% that all retailers dread, folks who come to a choose-and-cut farm have the Christmas spirit and are fun to work with. The kids (and now grandkids) all help, so it’s a family thing, which I love.
– Owner Jeff Hale