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With the Christmas season in full swing, live Christmas trees are in demand. Arkansas has many great, local Christmas tree farms that allow families to venture onto the farm and cut their own Arkansas Christmas tree. Those beautiful trees take a lot of work and years to grow. It’s a labor of love for the most magical time of year. The Crow’s Nest Farms and Red Colony Tree Farm are two of Arkansas’s newest Christmas tree growers.
Seven years ago, Kimberly Dale bought 40 acres of land in Greene County, on the west side of Paragould. Dale grew up on a farm, though it wasn’t a Christmas tree farm. She knew the hard work and mentality it takes to make a farm successful, however, her career as an attorney had taken her life in a different direction. Dale wanted an outlet that would allow her to be closer to the nature she loved. She also wanted to honor her brother, who died of cancer in 2001. Nicknamed Crow, he also loved nature. As she mulled over what to do with the hilly land on Crowley’s Ridge, a Christmas tree farm seemed the perfect way to bring Dale closer to nature and the memory of her brother.
Dale had the acreage completely cleared and then planted her first crop of Christmas trees in 2016. “I’m sure everyone thought I was crazy,” she says with a laugh. With the help and advice of the Arkansas Christmas Tree Growers Association, she planted 500 Virginia pine trees. The Arkansas Christmas Tree Growers Association began in the late 1970s when farmers started to look for ways to make supplemental income off their land as inflation made it more difficult to meet mortgage payments. At the same time, Arkansas’s population was shifting to more urban areas, but families still wanted freshly grown trees. The association formed to provide members with the best advice and practices for growing quality Christmas trees in Arkansas.
Talking with other Arkansas tree growers has been valuable for Dale. Many of the growers have been in business for years and are still operating their farms through retirement. Others, like Dale, have different day jobs but decided to open Christmas tree farms on their land as a way to provide something of value to the community.
That is the experience Dennis and Tara Currence hope for with Red Colony Tree Farm. They own their 80 acre Christmas tree farm in Lockesburg, Arkansas. In 2019, the Currences had been brainstorming ideas over how to utilize their land and add to their retirement income. Still not sure which direction to take, Tara prayed about it one night before bed. The next morning she woke up with a Christmas tree farm in mind. She quickly called Dennis, who was already at work, and told him she knew what they should do with the land. “Before I could say a word, he said ‘Christmas tree farm.’ That both of us had come up with this overnight sealed the deal. We knew we had to do this,” Tara says.
Like Kimberly Dale, the Currences are new to tree farming. They did research on their own and visited other tree farms, then planted their first Virginia pine seedlings in February of 2020. This November, they added Murray Cypress seedlings. The farm is still in its first year and the experience has been eye-opening. “Everything about growing a tree farm is much more difficult when you actually do it, than say just researching the information,” Tara says. They weed around the small seedlings by hand and mow at least once a week, if not more. “It wouldn’t take long to lose the little trees in the tall grass if you skip mowing.” The most difficult part of this first year has been losing some of the seedlings, but fortunately, they haven’t lost too many trees.
Another complication arose when Tara fell over the summer and broke her wrist. After a surgery that left her with a plate and eight screws in her wrist, the Currences quickly realized the farm was not a one-person job. Tara was able to work with her doctor to find a rehabilitation plan that allowed her to stay on the farm. She has quickly recovered and can do about 90% of the work she did before breaking her wrist.
The Currences plan to open Red Colony Tree Farm to the public in 2022, provided they have good growth between now and then. The farm will be cut-your-own Christmas tree and the Currences want to provide other family-friendly activities, although they’re still deciding what to offer. Tara is a crafter, and Red Colony will have a gift shop. All of the items the Currences will carry in their shop will be handmade in Arkansas.
As both the Currences and Kimberly Dale have discovered, starting a Christmas tree farm isn’t the easiest way to make money. The work is hard and outside all year round, whether in blistering heat or frosty cold. The trees need years to grow, which means these small business owners are juggling other jobs while working and waiting years to see any sales. However, there are beautiful payoffs, too. At The Crow’s Nest, wildlife of all kinds call the farm home, especially Dale’s 12 Nigerian Dwarf goats. Dale plans to use the goats as an attraction when the farm opens in 2021.
This year, she has purchased a limited number of Fraser fir trees from a family farm in North Carolina and is selling them in downtown Paragould. Watch The Crow’s Nest Facebook page for more information and to see if the goats will make a surprise appearance or two downtown this year. As for Dale, the experience has been enjoyable and, literally, a breath of fresh air from her day job. She loves the support she’s already received from the community and is looking forward to opening day in 2021.
Tara Currence echoes Dale’s experience with the community. Red Colony is excited about the future of Christmas tree farming in southwestern Arkansas. “The most rewarding part is knowing that we are working towards our future doing something we love and that we get to spend time together as a family doing it.” Keep up with the new farm’s adventures and opening plans on both Facebook and Instagram.
Though The Crow’s Nest Farms and Red Colony Tree Farm are 300 miles apart, with Crow’s Nest in the northeast corner of the state, and Red Colony in the southwest, the farmers are united by their experiences as a unique set of Arkansas Christmas tree growers. Watching their Christmas trees grow, and providing memorable holiday experiences for Arkansas families, is just the motivation needed as they look forward to future Christmas seasons in Arkansas.
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