A changing of the guard has occurred at the former Kirkpatrick Christmas tree farm out by the Alberni Valley Regional Airport.
Connie and Gerry Kirkpatrick, who owned and operated Kirkpatrick Christmas Trees for 32 years, have sold their tree farm to Robbie and Olive O’Dwyer.
While a Christmas tree farm near Port Alberni might seem like an odd acquisition to make, Olive is just following a family tradition.
“My family in Ireland has Christmas tree farms,” she said, adding that trees grow better here than they did back in Ireland.
“They grow very well here,” Olive said. “In the wild, you can get a Douglas fir up to 300-400 feet,” like some of the centuries-old, old growth trees in Cathedral Grove.
Everyone who comes by the newly renamed Tara Christmas Trees wants a different tree.
Douglas firs are the most popular with people looking for a traditional tree.
“But things are changing, with people starting to veer towards the grand fir because they hold their needles longer,” said Olive.
A Douglas fir might only hold its needles for two months, while as long as its owners remember to water it, a grand fir will stay green for up to six months.
While a lot of people think they know what tree they’re buying prior to coming, many people change their minds after they get out to the farm.
“They come here and think ‘oh I’ll have a grand fir’ and they go around and come back with a Douglas.”
Visitors are spoiled for choice on the 25-acre farm that boasts Douglas firs, grand firs, noble firs and pine trees of all sizes, from knee height to 15 or 20 footers.
Visitors get to wander around the farm looking for the perfect tree before cutting it down themselves.
“Some people have been coming here for years,” Olive said. “It’s very much a family tradition. New generations are coming out now.”
The O’Dwyers run the farm with the help of students from the VAST Education Centre.
“They’ve been helping us since we got the farm in February. They helped us plant the seedlings and then they helped us prune and then they helped us with the harvest.”
The O’Dwyers don’t have the only new u-cut tree farm in town.
Members of the ADSS rugby team have spent the past two weekends manning the next Christmas tree farm along Airport Road and will be out there for at least one more weekend.
“One hundred per cent of the proceeds from the trees sold goes back into ADSS,” said Ryan Hall, a teacher and the ADSS girls rugby team coach.
The money will be split between the school’s sustainable resource program and the girls rugby team’s upcoming trip to Ireland. More than two dozen team members will take part in the March 2015 trip, which will span 15 days and take the girls to Dublin, Galway and Limerick.
Apart from sightseeing, the team will get a chance to play some rugby.
“We play a game in each Dublin, Limerick and Galway and we also get to train with their international men’s team as well as some of the international coaches in Ireland,” Hall said. “It’ll be a very big experience for our girls and make them a better team.”
With around 20 trees sold per day at the farm each day this weekend, the fundraiser is going well.
“It’s been a really good experience so far, we’ve had a lot of fun with it, tons of our girls have been volunteering and we’re trying to make it a new Christmas tradition for families in the Alberni Valley.”
Both Tara Christmas Trees and the ADSS Christmas tree farm have tree options off-site for those who want a pre-cut tree. Tara Christmas Trees is supplying trees to Canadian Tire while ADSS trees can be bought at the school. For customers unable to pick up their trees themselves, ADSS will deliver trees to their doors.
The high school lot also supplies Christmas trees to Naesgaard’s Farm Market, which has been selling Christmas trees for two decades.
“We’ve been doing this for 20 years,” owner Helgie Naesgaard said, “we were doing it with Dave McBride (of Greenmax) prior to them transferring it to the rugby club. We’re still helping them out.”
Trees will be available at Naesgaard’s on River Road until Christmas Eve or until stock runs out. The market also has a Christmas Wonderland set up inside with fully decorated trees—including an upside down tree this year. Customers can buy decorations right off the trees.
For more information and pricing at Tara Christmas Trees, call 250-723-2535. The farm is open from 9 a.m. until dusk from Wednesday to Sunday up until Dec. 21.
For the ADSS Christmas tree farm, call 250-724-1479.
There are two other u-cut farms in the Valley; the Whiskey Creek Christmas Tree Farm out in Whiskey Creek and Tom’s Trees on Airport Road, past Tara’s and the ADSS farm. Tom Verbrugge of Tom’s Trees traditionally supplies already cut trees at Walmart and Shar-Kare on Roger Street.