Monday, July 28, 2003

Christmas tree farms growing

More cut-your-own places help deck the halls of Ohio

By Jeremy W. Steele
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MORROW - It's sunny and in the 80s, a typical July day.

But Frank and Ann Antenucci are thinking about Christmas. That's because their 190-acre Warren County farm is home to some 50,000 Christmas trees - the largest cut-your-own operation in southwestern Ohio.

"To grow a really nice Christmas tree it takes year-round work," said Frank, a retired Norwood dentist. "We take January off and by February we're going at it again."

Across Ohio, there are more than 325 Christmas tree farmers who operate under the same schedule. Ohio produces about 1.5 million trees a year for Christmas, making it the sixth-largest producer in the nation, said Dale Arnold, executive director of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association.

The association's members - along with Christmas tree farm operators from the Mid-American Christmas Tree Association, which includes Indiana, Illinois and Missouri - converged on the Antenucci's Morrow farm this past weekend for the groups' joint summer meeting. About 400 people from seven states participated in tours and sessions focusing on business management and pest control.

Most of Ohio's Christmas tree growers are part-time farmers, relying on other jobs to supplement their income, Arnold said. And although the number of growers has been declining, a new generation is starting to take over the industry.

"In the last two to three years we've seen a tremendous amount of interest from young families who have started living in the county, have some land and want to get involved in agriculture," Arnold said. "A lot of new growers come to a meeting like this to find out and learn new things about Christmas tree production."

Chances are, in addition to learning the basics about operating a tree farm, newcomers also will meet new friends. Christmas tree growers are a happy, sociable bunch - perhaps it has something to do with having the Christmas spirit all year.

It's that spirit that brought Antenucci into the business. After helping his dad sell produce and Christmas trees on the streets of Cincinnati as a boy, he vowed never to sell another tree.

That promise only lasted until he attended his first association meeting. "I could see they were people I enjoyed being around," Antenucci said.

The Antenucci farm, Big Tree Plantation, has only grown since the first tree crop was planted in 1984. The couple now also sells deciduous trees for landscaping and has a Christmas decoration shop open during the holiday season.

"Being a part of people's Christmas is really an honor," Ann Antenucci said. "People could go any place, but they come here."



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