The Story of Little Saps - Part 1
My parents are Christmas tree farmers. They have farmed since 1976, first in Michigan and then in North Carolina. But they did not come from a family of farmers. My father grew up on Chicago's north side, on bustling Devon Avenue, in a neighborhood that lies somewhere between Rogers Park and Andersonville. My grandfather, my father's father, was part Greek and in true Greek fashion he had a number of side businesses, including selling Christmas trees on the side lot next to the family home. Since it was a family business, my father and his brother were expected to help out from a very young age.
My mother, on the other hand, grew up in Kankakee, Illinois, a small suburban community about 60 miles south of Chicago. Her father was in the box business - they manufactured corrugated boxes - a business that he learned from my grandmother's family and eventually made his own.
When my parents met, my father was still selling Christmas trees - although he now had his own Christmas tree lots in other areas of the city - and he had just purchased his first piece of property in Hart, Michigan to grow his own Christmas trees. They decided to move to Michigan to be closer to the farm and they also decided to sell Christmas trees in south Florida, because - well, if you had to choose between selling Christmas trees in Chicago or south Florida - which would you choose?
So, how did we get to North Carolina? Well, right around the time my parents had established their Christmas tree lots in south Florida, the Fraser Fir Christmas tree exploded onto the eastern US Christmas tree market. The story of the Fraser Fir is an incredible one, especially for this area of the country, and I promise to tell you all about it in another post. But for now, let's just say that once Christmas tree consumers were introduced to the Fraser Fir, demand sky-rocketed, and the Christmas tree industry was forever changed. Some of the customers visiting our Christmas tree lots still asked for the Scotch Pine and Douglas Fir that dominated Christmas tree farms in Michigan, but a large majority wanted Fraser Fir. To meet the demand, my parents had to buy Fraser Fir from other growers and the place to get Fraser Fir - the best Fraser Fir - was in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Fraser Fir was so popular that Christmas tree growers throughout the country, particularly in big eastern tree-producing areas like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the northeast, all had to start growing Fraser Fir - even though Fraser Fir is temperamental and grows best in its native southern Appalachian mountains. My father was different. On a buying trip to North Carolina, he fell in love with the densely forested, rolling landscape, and without consulting my mother, purchased a piece of farmland in Grassy Creek, a tiny, historic community that borders Virginia.
The rest is history. Over the next several years, as he finished harvesting the trees in Michigan, he slowly shifted his farming operations to North Carolina until we stopped farming in Michigan completely. Today, we have farms in North Carolina and Virginia. Like other Christmas tree farmers in our area, we grow Fraser Fir almost exclusively. We have experimented with a few other varieties like Concolor Fir (or White Fir), Black Hills Spruce, Nordmann Fir, Turkish Fir, and Scotch Pine - but mostly in areas that Fraser Fir cannot grow.
So, where does Little Saps enter into the picture? That's covered in The Story of Little Saps - Part 2.