03 Dec 2023 Christmas tree farm brings family fun and scenic views to Central Arkansas
By Judy Riley
Folklore or fact, the modern-day Christmas tradition of a lighted evergreen is often attributed to religious leader Martin Luther. Regardless, it has become an American tradition. And the family adventure of selecting a tree from the woods or a tree farm is alive and well. According to the Christmas Tree Growers Association website arkansaschristmastreegrowers.com, there are ample tree farms right here in the 501.
Most tree farmers let you select your own tree from a collection of types as well as sizes. You can cut it down yourself with a handsaw or the proprietors will cut it for you. The tree is shaken with the aid of a mechanical shaker, removing any dry limbs or unwanted critters. Trees are then wrapped in webbing and placed atop a vehicle for the ride home.
One tree farm with a heartwarming background story is in Romance, a scenic drive north from Cabot on Highway 5. Originally established in the 1980s by the late Larry Pankey and his family, it was purchased in 2009 by Janet and Kevin Newcom. The farm thrived and grew, adding new varieties and more experiences, like a tractor-pulled train ride, holiday wreaths and on-site photographers ready to document the experience.
Because of health issues, the family’s daughter, Michelle Walker, husband David and children Davis and Donna came to join the family enterprise in 2017. Family ties run strong in this particular business. The whole family unit is involved in planting, trimming, watering and caring for the trees, numbering in the thousands.
They grow several different varieties: Murray Cypress, Leyland Cypress, Carolina Sapphires, Gold Dust, Silver Smoke, Blue Ice and Naylor Blue. In addition, they have shipped directly from Michigan several varieties of spruces and firs, including Frazier, Conoclor, Grand Fir, Black Hill Spruce, Blue Spruce and Snowtip. Families can choose to select a tree early, and then get it when needed.
Walker presells around 200 trees beginning in October ahead of the season, a modern-day ‘tree layaway plan,” at no extra charge to the buyer. In fact, there are no extra charges except for the items purchased. All the ‘experiences’ are free.
How long does it take to grow a typical 6- or 7-foot tree? In perfect weather conditions, they grow about 1 to 2 feet per year, according to Walker. She adds that last year’s weather was not conducive to optimum growth, but they will still have plenty of trees. They water when needed and trim a couple times a year. The proper trimming is really an art form, according to Walker. She takes pride in creating the ultimate Christmas tree shape.
The family tries to provide the whole experience to visitors. Upon arrival, one is greeted at the Christmas on the Ranch welcoming house and handed a clipboard with instructions, tags and welcoming smiles. Families are allowed plenty of time to select the tree of their dreams. When asked what her family’s rewards are, she quickly said, “Watching the little kids. They approach hundreds of trees with total awe and excitement.” The Walkers have old farm equipment on display for kids to sit on for a photo op. They provide a tractor-guided hayride on little cars dressed up as reindeer. Walker makes wreaths of all sizes. The family even has a group of farm animals for viewing.
Walker’s advice for buying a tree is to water, water, water. The tree will last through the season if kept watered. “It is best to take the tree home immediately and get it in water. If the cut trunk stays dry for even a small amount of time, the sap will form a coating on the trunk and water will not penetrate. So, if the family has a stop or two to make on their way home or if they live several miles away, make another cut on the base of the trunk just before putting in water. That way the tree can better soak up needed water.”
For information, look them up on Facebook at Romance Christmas Tree Farm. They can even arrange for an onsite photographer to capture a visitor’s experience. Call 501.556.5173 for rates and available time slots. Other Christmas tree growers and their amenities can be found at arkansaschristmastreegrowers.com.