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At Phillips Farm, Theyโ€™re Already Working on What Youโ€™ll Decorate Next Year

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By Taylor Heeden, Chatham News + Record Staff

In homes across Chatham County this week, living Christmas trees are marveled at by young and old alike as lights and ornaments – and the wrapped gifts below – add a festive air to the season.

In a week or so, long after the wrapping paper and torn bows have been thrown away, the trees will suffer the same fate as the season fades from memory.

And at Phillips Farm, the work to create future memories has already begun.

While Teri Phillips and her team at Phillips Farm tend to other crops throughout the year – they grow strawberries, pumpkins, hay and more on Hanks Chapel Road – the Christmas season is over. never far away on the nearly 15 acres of land they use to grow trees that will eventually beautify homes in residences in Chatham and surrounding areas over the coming December.

It was Teri’s husband, Al, who first suggested the idea of โ€‹โ€‹growing and selling Christmas trees. He grew up on a farm in Wake County and has spent most of his adult life in the lumber industry; today, he owns and operates Apex-based Triangle Forest Products.

About 20 years ago, however, Al began helping his father sell Fraser fir trees grown in western North Carolina at a site in Cary. Eventually, Al brought the thought to Terri: why not do the same here in Chatham?

So the family began growing and cultivating their own trees on their land in Pittsboro, bringing in Tanner, their 33-year-old son, to help with the operation.

โ€œWe’ve been open to this place for six or seven years, and every year more and more people come to the area,โ€ Tanner said.

Teri and Tanner get help with the day-to-day work of Austin Mathews, who has worked at Phillips Farm since the Christmas Tree Adventure began. It is Mathews who is responsible for planting and cultivating saplings, working year round to keep growing trees pruned and pruned. And as Thanksgiving draws near and customers start thinking about planting a living tree for the holiday season, he helps them pick – and cut – what will eventually be placed in a special place inside the home and decorated with lights and ornaments and surmounted by a star of some kind.

The process takes time – many years, in fact.

โ€œSome varieties that grow faster, you [re]plant them when they’re younger, โ€said Mathews. “It really depends on what tree you get – some you get [re]plant when they are 1 year old, and some, like white pines, are 3 years old.

Long after most of us have thrown away our living trees and our thoughts maybe turn to spring and things like summer beach trips, it’s Mathews and the Phillips who are thinking of future Christmases. . After planting saplings and making sure real growth begins, Mathews cuts off parts of disfigured or dying branches and fights deer and other pests that might want to make the saplings a meal.

โ€œTrees need to be fertilized, pruned and maintained year round,โ€ said Mathews. โ€œIf it’s tilted, you have to straighten it again; you have to make sure that there is a strong growth structure, and you have to do it for every tree, every year.

“They are so happy because it’s Christmas”

Aside from the popular Fraser firs – with their dark green, glossy dark needle foliage supported by strong branches – grown in Alleghany County and brought to Chatham, Phillips Farm grows Eastern White Pine and Cypress. by Leland. White pines have soft, bluish-green needles; cypresses are also used as ornamental plants.

Customers have the choice of choosing one of the pre-cut Fraser trees from the main lot, or they can venture out into the vast fields to pick one for farm staff to cut down. From there, Tanner and Mathews will work chopping down trees, shaking loose pine needles from trees, wrapping them in netting, and then loading them into customer cars.

Teri said the busiest time for them this Christmas season was the first few days they opened the field for business on the weekend after Thanksgiving. About 300 people came to pick their trees during this weekend alone.

โ€œIt was really crazy that first weekend, and it gets a little slower as you go through the season,โ€ she said.

On Christmas Eve, Phillips Farm typically sells around 800 Christmas trees. To deal with the increase in foot traffic this opening weekend, the Phillips are employing students from across the county to help with the extra workload.

โ€œThere’s a lot of manual work to be done that we can’t handle,โ€ said Mathews. โ€œSo we have high school and college students helping us during this time. “

Among the thousands of trees that Phillips Farm has sold over the years are the 15-foot-tall Christmas trees on display outside the historic Chatham County Courthouse for the past two years, placed by the city of Pittsboro.

Labor shortages linked to the ongoing pandemic and a warmer climate in recent years in North Carolina’s high altitudes – which has resulted in shortages of certain types of trees – have contributed to the rise in price of Christmas trees.

โ€œThe oriental varieties we are selling for $ 7 a foot, but the Fraser trees have jumped from $ 12 to $ 15 a foot,โ€ Teri said. “Last year they were around $ 8 to $ 12 a foot.”

Despite this, Phillips Farm has seen hundreds of families walk through their farm this year alone. Next year, the family plans to open a second location to sell US highway trees. 64 on the west side of Pittsboro. The current location has about five to six acres of trees planted, and the new location will allow up to an additional 10 acres of Christmas trees.

โ€œWe have a farm just off Hadley Mill Road, where we used to sell strawberries and pumpkins,โ€ Teri said. โ€œWe’ve been growing trees there for about three years, so we should have trees that are 5 feet tall. We’re trying to move our retail base there.

Phillips Farm operates as a family business, with Teri and Tanner handling most of the administrative duties. And although the Christmas season can be stressful at times, Teri said she was grateful to be able to work with Tanner and see more of his wife, Brittany, and 13-month-old grandson, Rhett.

โ€œI see more of my son and his baby, and it’s always fun,โ€ Teri said. “Sometimes it’s stressful and everyone has a shorter temper, but that’s good.”

โ€œEveryone has their other job too, so that on top of what people normally do is stressful,โ€ Tanner added.

Despite the hectic nature of the Christmas season, Mathews said the best part of the season is the cheerful attitude people have when choosing their Christmas tree.

โ€œEveryone is always in such a good mood,โ€ he says. “It’s the holiday season and people are happy.”

For Teri, one of the best things about being a part of the Christmas tree farm is seeing many of the same families coming back each year – and the connections that come with people who are part of a family tradition to choose one. living tree.

โ€œI love talking to the people who come here because they are so happy because it’s Christmas,โ€ Teri said. โ€œI see people come every year with their children and watch them grow up. This is probably the best part.

Phillips Farm is located at 1282 Hanks Chapel Road.


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The Chatham News + Record is Chatham County’s source for local news and journalism. The Chatham News, established in 1924, and the Chatham Record, founded in 1878, have come together to better serve the Chatham community under the name Chatham News + Record. Covering news, business, sports and more, News + Record strives to strengthen community ties through compelling coverage of life in Chatham County.

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