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Central Coast Christmas Tree farming less lucrative due to online competition, weather impacts

Posted at 9:49 PM, Dec 08, 2018

Christmas is less than three weeks away and that means big business for local Christmas Tree farmers, who cash in on years worth of planning and planting.

But changes in weather and competition from big box stores are creating a challenge for small local growers, like Hidden Springs Tree Farm in Atascadero.

“There are certain types of trees that people are really familiar with like Norman Firs that the box chain stores have that we can’t grow here,” Hidden Springs Assistant Manager Olivia Dobbs said.

Dobbs is a third generation employee of Hidden Springs, which was opened 56 years ago by her grandfather.

“It’s family tradition,” Dobbs said. “I grew up here, my mom grew up here working on the farm since she was 7.”

For the Dobbs family, it’s tradition, not profit, that keeps them in the business.

“This year we’ll probably sell about 700,” Dobbs said. “Everything we make goes back into the farm.”

Each tree takes at least 5 years to mature and that’s if it survives harsh weather like drought and sunburn.

Some U.S. tree farmers reported a shortage this year because the trees that should have been harvested this year were planted eight years ago during a recession period.

Factor in competition from retail giants like Amazon, which delivers 7-foot-tall live trees, and tree farming becomes a tough industry.

“Most of my family, we’ve all got second jobs,” Dobbs said.

It’s a labor of love that Dobbs said pays off when families find the Christmas spirit in a farm-grown fir.

For David Vail, an Atascadero resident, selecting a live tree is a holiday tradition.

“It’s a giant green tree with beautiful foliage, perfect for decorating,” Vail said of this year’s selection.

Ethan and Kali Helen of Paso Robles said they have been coming to the Hidden Springs Tree Farm for at least the past six years.

“After we get home, we’re gonna put on ornaments and lights and candy canes too,” Ethan Helen said.

Everyone who comes to the tree farm looks for different qualities, Dobbs said, like price, height and color.

“It’s an experience, so you come out with family and walk around the farm with apple cider,” Dobbs said. “It’s definitely funner than going to a store.”

The experience may be short lived, as Dobbs said the trees are running out quick and the farm will likely close up shop in the near future.