A talk with Sarah and Greg Vining
By Scott Douglas
Sarah and Greg Vining own and operate Vining’s Choose and Cut Tree Farm, in Cumberland. Open between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the 10-acre farm grows balsam firs. Customers pay $35 to cut and take away whatever size tree they want. The Vinings also sell homemade wreaths constructed with their trees’ limbs.
The Bollard: How long does it take a tree to be saleable?
Sarah: We plant five-year-old trees, and it takes eight to 12 years [after that] for the tree to be able to be sold.
Greg: I guess the best way to describe how trees grow is that they grow a lot like people — some grow a little faster, some grow a little slower, some are thin, some get fatter. There are different characteristics within each one, like different shades of green.
Do you have any control over how they grow, like in terms of color?
Greg: Yup. Color would be how much fertilizer gets applied to them. How fast they grow may depend on the growing season, like any other crop.
How does the weather affect them?
Greg: It really doesn’t seem to affect them too awful much. Everybody asks about these trees, whether their growth is off because of drought or whatnot, but if you look right behind you over there at the forest, they’re there every year.
What is the rest of your year like? This is obviously the busiest time, right?
Greg: My wife and I both have jobs that we work at full-time. This is what I like to tell people is an overgrown hobby. I come up here on the weekends and evenings and do the fertilizing and shaping and shearing, the mowing around the trees.
What do you do in your other lives?
Greg: I work for the city of Portland.
Sarah: I work for a software company in town.
How many trees do you have available for sale?
Greg: Oh, several hundred. There’s enough for everybody. The first tree that goes out isn’t necessarily the best-looking one, and the last one that leaves won’t be the worse.
When do you put up your Christmas tree?
Greg: We were going to decorate outside. We had [our Christmas tree] all stood up out there — we always do one outside for decoration. We got a little bit behind this year. I’ve taken that one down and put it in the garage.
Our season is here, you know. I do the afternoons up here, we make wreaths in the evening, so there’s a limited amount of time for us to stop and enjoy Christmas.
Do you pick out the best tree, or one no one else will buy?
Sarah: We get good trees for ourselves, and we usually try to put them up at Thanksgiving…. This year, we’re just a little bit late on everything.
Greg: My best decorating story I’ve heard this year is about a group that gets a really tall, 16- or 18-foot tree. They mix up a few drinks, and to put the ornaments on it, they get their fishing poles out and put them up on the tree. Now to me, that sounds like a pretty good evening.
Is this just a labor of love for you, or do you actually make a little supplemental income from it?
Greg: The property’s been in the family for a couple hundred years. I’d like to see it stay in the family. I’ve got three daughters, they’re right here. Like I said, we both work full-time. This does gives us some extra money. We put a lot aside for college for them, we pay the property taxes on this land, and there is enough left over that we buy ourselves a Christmas present.
One of my favorite things is you go out there and you see a 16-foot tree, and you want to cut off the top six feet. I’m okay with that, because you’re going to leave me the bottom limbs that I’m going to make into a wreath. So instead of a $35 tree, I’ve really sold a $50 tree.