Valley Bounty: Cranston’s Christmas Tree Farm
Cutting your own Christmas tree is a wonderful outing in the best of times — traipsing through frosted pines and firs with your loved ones until you find that perfect tree. It’s also a rare holiday tradition perfectly suited to COVID-19 safety precautions. Whether you always cut your own or you’re looking for new ways to safely share holiday adventures with friends and family, visiting an operation like Cranston’s Christmas Tree Farm in Ashfield is a great bet.
Seth Cranston co-owns the business with his brother Jonathan. As he explains in his jovial tone, Cranston’s Christmas Tree Farm is a family-oriented affair. The brothers grew up working the land alongside their parents, Cynthia and Thomas, who remain involved with a host of spouses, siblings and children helping to keep the farm running.
They sell syrup and other maple products, cut hay, and occasionally log some of the property, but their main focus is nearly 40 acres of Christmas trees.
If you come for a tree, Seth and his family make sure you and yours leave with a smile and a memory. Cutting your own tree is about the experience.
“Having the whole family, especially the kids, come and experience the wonder of seeing the trees in their natural element … and then being able to choose one that you feel would be a perfect fit in your home,” that’s what it’s all about, he says.
When you cut your own Christmas tree, you know where it came from, the perks of which are the same as buying any local product. You can see where it was grown and by who, and your dollars stay circulating in the local economy. Plus, you know exactly how fresh it is, and may learn a thing or two about its life history.
Seth points out that the experience his farm provides is full of teachable moments not available when picking out a tree in a parking lot. “No matter what the agricultural commodity is, whether it be fruits and vegetables, milk or Christmas trees, a lot of people don’t know where these things come from because they haven’t been exposed to it,” he says.
An extreme example of this knowledge gap: “Once, someone cut a tree and then they asked me if they could plant that tree the next year. And I said, well, no, because it doesn’t have roots anymore. They didn’t understand that a tree sustains itself from its roots. So it was amusing, but by the same token it was also a learning experience.”
Each year Seth and his family transplant four types of evergreen seedlings, balsam fir (their most popular and abundant), Frasier fir, concolor fir and blue spruce, filling spaces where customers harvested trees the previous year. It takes around eight years of expert care to sculpt a tree of typical selling height, but people are welcome to cut any size, all the way up to stately 10-footers.
The trees that aren’t quite perfect find new purposes as the hundreds of wreaths, garlands, swags and other holiday décor handmade by the Cranstons. These, as well as the farm’s maple products, are all available for purchase when you come in for a tree.
Despite the pandemic, Seth is optimistic about customer interest this year, and they’ve overhauled their operation to ensure visitors’ health and safety. Everything is outdoors with one-way traffic for people and cars, and they now offer a touchless credit card payment system (cash and checks are still accepted). Carts and saws — anything hands may have shared — are regularly sanitized, and face coverings are required at all times.
Seth chuckles as he shares a new unofficial slogan: ‘Our trees are planted six feet apart; you should be too.’ “It just happened to be the typical planting pattern,” he laughs, “We had no idea six feet was the magic number.”
If you’re looking for a safe and fun holiday adventure outdoors this season, cutting your own local Christmas tree is the way to go. Even if you choose one pre-cut from another valley business, ask where it came from. You may be surprised how many were grown by your farmer neighbors.
Cranston’s is open Wednesday through Sunday until Dec. 23. Hours are Wednesday-Friday, noon to 4:30 p.m., and weekends, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.. They also collect donations for area nonprofits — this year it’s the DopaFit-Parkinson’s Movement Center in Southampton.
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. Find other local Christmas tree farms and more at buylocalfood.org/farmguide.