Choose and Cut Tree Farms


As a young girl, I devoured books such as "Caddie Woodlawn," "Little House on the Prairie" and "Sarah, Plain and Tall." It was books like these that fueled my old-fashioned dreams of Christmas, with sleigh rides through the snow to find the perfect tree and stockings filled with oranges and candy canes. It was a far cry from going to the tree lot a block away from our house in downtown Atlanta and picking out a tree while wearing short sleeves.

Fortunately, even in the 21st century, you can still create some of that old-fashioned Christmas and start a new family tradition at the same time. We might not always have snow and sleigh rides, but North Carolina is one of the top tree-producing states in United States, producing more than 50 million trees a year. Thanks to that, there are plenty of choose-and-cut tree farms where your kids can run through fields of Christmas trees on a search for the perfect one to drag back home.

Our adventure started when we all piled into the SUV. Two things have to be considered for choosing transportation on this day trip - not only do you have to take a vehicle the whole family can ride comfortably in, but also make sure it's one you can safely strap a tree to the top.

When we arrived at Pine Shadows Farm in Roaring Gap, which is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Winston-Salem, the cold air hit us like a gust before a snowstorm. It was the perfect weather for picking out a Christmas tree. Remember to bring your coats, mittens, scarves and hats. It's often a few degrees colder in the mountains than in the Piedmont, and the wind can be fierce. The 14-year-old and 4-year-old immediately took off running through the rows of green trees, and I was secretly appreciating a family outing that all the kids enjoyed.

After a short introduction from the staff on what the tags on the trees meant, my husband and I followed the two children, with the 1-year-old bundled up and snug on my back in a hiking backpack. I felt a little like a mountain goat walking up and down the paths in search of the perfect tree.

So what is the key to getting a perfect tree? According to Alfred Motsinger, the owner of Pine Shadows Farm, you don't need to worry about needle strength or the arrangement of the branches; the most important thing is to know what size tree will fit in your home. "Trees tend to look smaller in the field than they look when you get them home," Motsinger said. "Know how tall your ceilings are, to make sure you get the right height, but also estimate how big around you would like the tree to be, so you don't end up with one too wide and have to move all the furniture out of the living room."

For the kids, finding a tree turned into a game. They would each go a separate direction, walking all the way around tree after tree, and then stand by one and yell to us to come look. After a little debate, we finally found one we could all agree on, and flagged down the guy with the chainsaw.

Pine Shadows Farm is a full-service operation, which means they take care of the chores, and all you have to do is enjoy the adventure. Even though the kids didn't have to use their own energy sawing down the tree, it was still pretty interesting to see it cut right in front of our eyes. With the tree safely labeled and awaiting transport down the hill, we went to the shed for some hot cider and candy canes, one of the special touches that helps heighten the experience.

Pine Shadows Farm has been growing Christmas trees since 1965, and is one of the oldest choose-and-cut farms in Alleghany County. Thanks to its long history with Christmas trees, the farm has a good variety to choose from, including some exotic firs from Russia, Europe and Turkey. "I've been experimenting with some trees for the last 10 or 12 years, and they're starting to be a marketable size," Motsinger said.

Whether you're in search of a traditional Fraser fir, an exotic find or just a fun holiday outing, taking a trip to choose your own tree fresh from the farm is a great new tradition to start with your family.

Want to find a choose and cut tree farm for your family to visit? These websites will get you started.

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