Grant Award: $3,000 $6,000
Joey and Kelley have relocated the headquarters for their choose-and cut Christmas tree operation to a different part of their family farm to increase visibility and customer ease. At the new location, visitors have better access to tree areas, more room for parking, and an inviting retail space where they can relax.
Joey is making use of a 500-square-foot log cabin that Joey’s father, who recently passed away, hand-built using logs from the property. An indoor retail space allows customers to take a break from the cold weather, warming up by the antique cook stove while sipping hot chocolate. There is also a room for constructing wreathes, bows, and other value-added Christmas items. A flat space around the cabin offers an outdoor fire pit and games such as corn hole and horseshoes.
“Having activities will cause people to slow down, relax and enjoy the views while we do the necessary things like bringing the tree in from the field, bailing it and tying it on the vehicle,” Joey said. With the addition of a 20-car parking lot, visitors can feel comfortable staying longer to visit the retail area and enjoy their time at the farm.
The former location was difficult for customers to find even with directional signage. Some customers could not drive the steep one-lane gravel road during bad weather, which was especially challenging since the road was shared with the farm’s baler moving up and down the mountain with harvested trees. The new road is much less steep and the welcoming area more inviting.
Joey is also planting more trees, expecting the business to grow over the next few years. Several nearby tree farms are transitioning away from choose-and-cut to wholesale, while some neighboring tree farm owners are retiring.
The Millers currently have approximately 350 customers annually and five acres of trees. They market through the Watauga Christmas Tree Association. Joey has been exploring decreasing the use of pesticides and increasing beneficial insects on his farm.
Joey is a third generation farmer, and the farm has been in his family for 125 years. His goal is to continue growing the farm business so he can reduce the number of odd jobs he does off the farm. He expects he will also be able to offer seasonal jobs for others. “Most importantly I want my son to be able to take over a viable business, helping keep our farm both in the family and operating as a farm,” Joey said.