O’ Christmas tree: A holiday tradition at risk

By Paige Meyer

“Christmas tree shopping is like the tailgating of a big football game for the holiday season,” said Joseph Vignola, the owner of Joseph’s Tree Farm in Hamden, Connecticut.

He runs the family business with his wife, Denise, along with their three daughters and one son. They started planting Christmas trees in 1983. Come 1988, their first set of trees was ready to harvest.

“My favorite thing about running the farm is that we have become friends with our customers,” Vignola said. “We have a great time and meet a lot of interesting people. On the farm we help people make memories.”

Joseph’s Tree Farm is located in Hamden, Connecticut.

Joseph’s Tree Farm is located in Hamden, Connecticut.

A staple of the holiday season, the Christmas tree is at risk this year because of a shortage of trees available for purchase, an issue that dates back to the economic recession of 2007.

When the recession hit, farmers cut back on planting Christmas tress and began to plant other crops instead.

The maturation process for Christmas trees takes 10 years before they are ready for the living room, so the decrease in the amount planted in 2007 still impacts the market today.

“I did notice over the past couple years the cost of my Christmas tree was a little higher, but never thought too far into it. The Christmas tree is an icon of the holiday season and it is a shame to think in a couple years families may not be able to enjoy them,” said Connecticut native, Teresa Piscitelli.

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Historically, many trees purchased in Connecticut are grown elsewhere, in places like Vermont, New Hampshire and Canada.

But Vignola said that Connecticut has never had enough trees.

“Around 35 years ago, when we first opened our farm, there were at least eight operational Christmas tree farms in Hamden alone. Present day? We only have two farms in Hamden,” Vignola said.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, prices increased 17 percent from 2015 to 2017 with the average price rising from $64 to $73. This year, industry experts estimate prices will hold steady. But pricing is not the only issue. The limited supply of tress forces the shopping season to start a little early as customers want to make sure they can get a tree for their homes.

“With fewer farms, comes less product — and a lot of customers,” Vignola said. “With the word out about the shortage, people are in panic mode because they think they will not find a Christmas tree for the holidays and come earlier for the higher chances of getting a tree.”

In Connecticut, Christmas trees are the largest crop in the ground and occupy 5,000 acres across the state for harvest.

“My family and I look forward to going to the farm together each year and taking our annual Christmas card photo,” Piscitelli said. “As time goes on I hope that this problem doesn’t continue to increase because it would be ruining some of the excitement of the holiday season for a lot of people.”

The Vignolas’ farm starts preparing for the holiday season in September by cleaning the fields, making sure the stumps are filled and checking farm safety. Christmas tree season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, and the Vignolas work to provide Connecticut with the best trees they can, no matter the circumstance.