Driving down Mount Vernon Church Road in northern Wake County any other month than November and December, you might miss the fact that you just passed a working Christmas tree farm. You read that right. Christmas trees are actually grown right here in Raleigh!
It all started more than 40 years ago.
“We went to a tree farm in the mid-’70s and we had a blast; we just had a ball,” family patriarch Mike Boyce said of the experience he had with his wife, Sheila. “It was on Strickland Road in Raleigh. We cut a tree down out there, and we decided that’s what we want to do. We started planting in 1981 and started selling trees in 1986 or ’87. That’s how far back it goes.”
Flash forward to today, and Boyce Farms is a three-generation family affair. Boyce’s son, Michael, and daughter, Jennifer Lavrack, help with the operations, along with Lavrack’s husband, Brock, and their four children, Madison, Allison, Kirson, and Asher, who range in ages from 16 to 7.
If a working Christmas tree farm seems unlikely for this area, it’s because there just aren’t that many of them around.
“You don’t see many folks my age in the Christmas tree business anymore,” said Boyce. “About 10 years ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of profit in them, so they got out, and now there’s not enough trees being grown in the mountains. That’s why they got out. They quit. The workforce wasn’t there. It was overproduced. Prices dropped and they said, ‘that’s it.’”
And that’s not the only challenge this small family-run business has. “We’re not making any money right now,” said Boyce. “There’s not enough trees because this is an 8- to 10-year crop. There’s not enough, and nobody wants to get into it really. It’s a lot of hard work. You’ve got to wait eight years to get any money back.”
Boyce plants his seedlings in January, noting that all of them died this year and last year. “It’s one of those things that happens,” he said. “We fertilize them and then we start shearing them when they’re maybe four years old. And when they get 6 or 7 feet, that’s when we’ll sell them.”
The farm grows white pine, Leyland cypress, Blue Ice, and Carolina Sapphire. They also have a handful of volunteer cedars, which are saplings that come up from seed all by themselves. “We cut a tree down, there’s a cedar tree, said Boyce. “We’ll leave it.”
This season, the farm will see about 300 trees ready in their choose and cut lot. They provide saws or will gladly cut it for you, net it for easy transport, and load and tie it on your vehicle at no charge. You can bring your own saw, but they don’t allow chainsaws.
You’ll also find wreaths made from the trees trimmings, as well as a lit field with pre-cut Fraser firs that come from the North Carolina mountains. “That’s what everybody wants,” said Boyce. “We sell more Fraser firs than we do the trees we grow.”
When it comes to doling out jobs among family members, Michael, a firefighter with the City of Durham, and Brock, a landscaper, help with the heavy lifting. “Tree toter,” they each say, laughing.
The kids also pitch in and have their friends over to help. “I worked here in high school, and now my kids that are in high school, their friends are working here, too,” said Jennifer Lavrack.
After spending time with the family, it’s easy to tell that it’s the people who really make Boyce Farms special. “I think it’s seeing everybody,” said Lavrack, who also works as a real estate broker. “We have repeat customers, and now we’re seeing the second and third generations. That’s always neat. And the workers and helpers and all the kids … it’s neat too. Everybody’s just happy to be here.”
“Every weekend, it’s just so much fun to hang out with everybody and see everybody again every year,” said 12-year-old Kirson. “It’s just something to look forward to.”
Seven-year-old Asher might be found tossing a football or hitting a baseball in between his farm duties. “All of my friends come and I get to help people get Christmas trees,” he said.
Boyce Farms opens to the public the week before Thanksgiving, and trees go fast. Last year, they sold out in 10 days — but not before the family picks one for themselves. And in true Charlie Brown fashion.
“We’re the last ones to put up a Christmas tree,” said Boyce. “Some people have a different vision of what a pretty tree is. We usually take the one that nobody wants. We’ll pick the ugliest one, snatch it up, throw it over a shoulder, and carry it on in the house. You can make any tree pretty.”
Then, after weeks of working seven days a week and up to 15 hours a day, Boyce and his family can finally relax once Christmas Day comes. When January comes back around, it will be time to plant seedlings again.
When asked if the farm will keep going on with the generations, Lavrack said, “I hope so. I think that’s the plan.”
Smiling from that answer, Boyce simply replied, “I love it.”
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