This episode aired originally on April 20 but I was unable to post the accompanying blog post as I was updating our website.
This week I was inspired to share an update on our farm research that has been taking a backseat recently due to competing priorities (our jobs). The revelations unfolded so organically and quickly that I needed some time to process it all and understand what it would mean for us.
When we purchased our property last year, we knew that it was an old Christmas Tree lot previously owned by Kirk Christmas Trees, who at one time was one of the largest Christmas Tree producers in North America. The lot was overgrown though, the trees were much too large to be used for Christmas Trees and would need a fair amount of work to thin them out so they grow into the beautiful trees you would want to see in your home.
We were attracted to the lot because we actually liked that we would be remediating old farm land and assisting it in being reclaimed into naturalized forest again. That's a lofty goal that will probably span our lifetime, but it was our motivation nonetheless. How often do you get to custom design a whole forest?
That being said, I did notice that brush (the term for bundles of branches cut for decorative purposes: wreaths, garlands, etc) was a fairly popular product when I improvised at our second farmer's market at Christmastime and sold "DIY Urn Bundles" with about 5 different types of brush bundled together: balsam, white pine, juniper, alder, and hemlock. It kind of blew my mind that people would buy brush since I've always just trimmed it off the trees of my property or the property of friends. Low and behold, its a whole sub industry of the Christmas Tree Industry in Nova Scotia.
True to the recommendation of Angie from the FCC (check out my 2-Part Interview with her here), talking with our neighbors and other local farmers proved to be pivotal in understanding how we might do more than just package a few bundles of brush together and sell once a year at the farmers market.
This development began to unfold when I attended the first Community Café at the New Germany Anglican Hall. This event is run by local volunteers and everyone chips in sweets a la potluck style and you donate towards the continued success of the event. The café runs like a regular café but its more deliberate in its effort to introduce neighbors to one another, something us newcomers appreciate greatly. Here I got the chance to catch up with our new friends Vic, Brynn, Jess and finally meet Ilona, as well as Ilona's friend Viola.
When talking with Viola, she mentioned in passing that she and her husband worked together for many years selling brush to our local farm, DeLongs, who bought wholesale brush from local farmers in the early winter to fuel their creation of Wreaths, Garlands and arrangements.
I chewed on this over the next week. Through that cafe another neighbor, Audrey, offered up free manure to anyone who wanted to come take it off their horse farm, and Viola had told Vic, Brynn and I that they had a bunch of feed bags we could take off their hands to use to bag up the compost for our later use. When I followed up later that week with Viola, I asked her some follow up questions about brush cutting, particularly how much of a time investment it was and how profitable it was. This gave me a good sense of whether we would consider it a viable option for us this year. As it turns out, if you have the trees the overhead cost is low- all you need are some hand clippers and a pole clipper and some decent outdoor clothes for working in the woods in the early winter.
So the next step for us was to figure out if DeLongs would want us as a supplier. I had already met the DeLongs a few times over the winter helping them with some of their bookkeeping and buying hay and straw there periodically for our goats. I called Jim, one of the two brothers who run the farm and the one who manages the forestry side of things. A few days later I was meeting with him to flush out the rest of my questions, including the current price by weight for brush.
Jim and his brother Ralph were so open and easy to talk to about us foraying into the world of Christmas Tree and Brush production they not only said they would purchase our brush but offered to send one of their workers over to us to show us what we would need to do to get it ready for sale. So with the knowledge of what to sell, who to sell it to and the price, we got a very good sense of what this activity will entail for us as farmers and can be mentally prepared to hit the ground running come November when its nice to get cracking. Win!
Then of course that weekend I was so inspired by these conversations that I said what the heck- I am going to look into joining the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Association since new entrants (people just getting into the industry) can join for just $25. This mighty little organization had processed my membership and sent me our membership card WITH our discount to Mark's Work Warehouse (I'll take that, TYVM). By Monday, I was on the email list and had received an invitation to the Spring Technical Session at the Forties Community Center just outside New Ross, near where Tyler works at the Ross Farm Museum. The cost for the session was $45 for a full day including lunch. I thought that the price was a little steep since we really weren't supposed to be spending any funds on unapproved activities, but Tyler gave me the green light to attend since I could claim it as a networking opportunity for my portion of the business (farm services: bookkeeping, eCommerce development and grant writing) as well as learn more about the industry on a whole.
So that day I dropped Tyler off at work at the museum and went over to the community center. I didn't know anyone at the event, so I promptly found a seat and just waited for the event to start. A few minutes later, none other than Jim DeLong walked through the door and promptly sat down beside me. As a long time member of the community and one of the listed speakers on the agenda, Jim's presence with me immediately made me feel more welcome and I think more approachable to others who were curious about the newcomer. There were perhaps 40-50 people in attendance at the event, with the average age seeming to be about 55-60 years old. I was only one of 3 female farmers, though there were many other women in attendance from the council and community center staff.
It was a long event, spanning from 8 am until 2 pm, but what I gleaned from it was invaluable for us. I learned that the Christmas Tree industry is BOOMING in Nova Scotia and one of the biggest issues at the moment is actually finding new people to step up to the plate. As someone who is looking to get into farming, finding out that the piece of land we bought that has nothing BUT Christmas trees on it is actually valuable beyond the aesthetics was pretty fascinating. I also learned that there exists a wonderful community of hardworking farmers who have been toiling for most of their lives to bring the industry to this point and they are downright PASSIONATE about helping new people get started.
The event also introduced me to the Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia, an organization that operates off a levy collected from all Christmas Tree sales in the province. This levy goes towards creating resources for new farmers (including a MASSIVE manual to welcome newcomers and has everything I will need to read to build a foundation of knowledge on Christmas Tree farming - that was worth the $25 membership fee alone). I met Gillian, the resource coordinator for the organization who was super friendly and who also provided me with very specific information on things like grants and funding opportunities for new farmers, particularly relating to forestry road maintenance and business planning. In addition to Gillian, I met Lienna, the Christmas Tree specialist who helps with the technical/scientific side of growing trees who has a background in Forestry. Lienna told me she was planning on coming down our way the following Friday, so we set up a FREE meeting where she would come to our property to evaluate it for tree quality (there are different grades of Christmas Tree?!?!?), pest/disease identification and just a general overview of her professional opinion of our plans.
I have to say, all in all I felt very welcomed by this group and was pretty impressed with what I saw. I have been to countless business meetings or community networking events, but none of them had the down to earth, simple, friendly and efficient environment that the LCCTPA did.
At the end of the event, they closed the day with the Annual General Meeting for the LCCTPA. They needed three new board members, and only two people were ready to step forward. I leaned over to Jim as they made the call for a third representative and asked what he thought about being a board member, and he said he thought it was a great opportunity and definitely worthwhile. So in true Tikvah fashion, I put my name forward and was acclaimed along with the others as the new board members for the next four years.
While this was an unplanned dedication of my time and resources, I knew that down the line I would eventually like to put some volunteer time towards an organization that was cohesive with our goals, and I feel that this opportunity will help me stay focused in learning more about this new industry, both as a farmer and as a business owner who wants to work with farmers to make the most of their production. Hopefully as a new entrant, I can help the organization attract other newcomers who may not know about the opportunities in the Christmas Tree industry and provide some positive feedback to all those amazing farmers who have been putting beautiful trees in your living room for the past 40 years.
If you would like to learn more about the Christmas Tree Industry in Nova Scotia, I would highly recommend that you take advantage of this great network and all the wonderful resources that they have to offer us as new farmers. Some of these resources include:
I'd say for $25, getting all that was a steal of a deal.