Jefferson, a little town in North Carolina, is home to a 100-acre Christmas tree farm. Fraser firs grow year-round to the point of their peak. They are chopped down, and after some travel, they stand tall under family roofs every December.
This little farm is owned by President Steven Leath and run by his son, Eric Leath.
Obviously, Eric, the youngest brother, Scott, and Steven Leath are against fake Christmas trees.
Eric said his father bought the farm when he was in middle school when he was working on large agricultural research farms. Eric said his father fell in love with the area.
“The tree business, unlike a lot of agriculture, you can be somewhat absentee for,” Eric said. “They are trees, they aren’t going anywhere. They don’t rot.”
Continue reading below...
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Steven Leath worked as an agriculture professor at North Carolina State University. Eric said he wanted a piece of land for himself, and farming it offset the price.
Eric said while there is a good amount of labor required for the tree business, it is strictly confined to certain times of the year.
The Leath’s farm wholesales trees, so they don’t have families running through lines of trees on the hunt for the perfect Christmas addition to their living rooms. Eric said they cut over 6,000 trees a year that end up all over the states.
“They go to church sales, fundraisers, large buyers and hopefully not too many to Lowe’s or Home Depot,” Eric said.
The average Christmas tree is in the ground for seven to eight years and grows about a foot a year. When the trees are ready to be transported as little sprigs, workers dig them up by hand.
Being in the mountains poses a challenge for workers. Machinery would roll over if used.
They are fertilized in the spring. Fertilization is done by hand, carried up the mountain on the backs of those feeding the young trees.
Every year after two or three have passed, they sheer the branches. Eric said Christmas trees grow in the familiar shape but never look as good as a customer would want them to.
Sheering helps train the branches before they are sent to a home where a curious cat will mess them up.
They begin harvesting in October and shoot for Thanksgiving as a delivery date.
“There is a national shortage of Christmas trees this year,” Eric said. “I don’t know if it will be as big of a deal to consumers, it’s more the retailers trying to source what they will sell. We sold every Christmas tree we could sell by June this year.”
Because of the shortage, all of the buyers have been harvesting their own trees on the Leath’s farm. Eric said there were seasons of poor economic status for the country that left the Leaths harvesting their own trees.
Continue reading below...
The Leath brothers have passed the torch of who runs the family farm after Eric returned to North Carolina after a short time in Washington D.C. Steven Leath still has a huge hand in the business, making the larger capital decisions.
Eric said his father misses the farm when he is away and thoroughly enjoys the business.
“There is something satisfying about being outside, at least for me,” Eric said.
Eric works in real estate as a full-time job, and his work with the farm is periodical. Once harvest comes along, he spends far more time working with the trees. He said his neighbors help out on the farm when he isn’t around. Eric visits the farm once a month.
Last year, Eric ran harvest himself. This year he came to the Georgia game instead of cutting trees down, thanks to the buyers’ help with the harvest.
He said there was a time when the Leath brothers were young and the farm was starting up when Steven Leath and his sons did all of the labor themselves.
“We would go to the mountains, we would work, we would go hunting and cook out,” Eric said. “It is hard work at the end of the day.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman