Christmas by the acre
Holiday season means business at Jack's Creek Tree Farm
By Kathryn Purcell
The weekend-after-Thanksgiving tradition, for many families, involves bundling up, piling in the car and journeying out in search of the perfect Christmas tree.
For Mark Batchelor and Damon Malcom, however, the weekend-after-Thanksgiving tradition brings with it acres of wandering customers and business by the carload.
Batchelor and Malcom own and run Jack's Creek Tree Farm. Located in Bostwick, Jack's Creek consists of 100 acres, 60 of which contain a variety of Christmas trees for consumers to choose from - Leyland Cypress, Virginia Pine, White Pine, Red Cedar and Green Giant, to name a few. The remaining acreage contains the farm's nursery stock.
Aside from the Christmas trees grown on the property, Batchelor and Malcom ship in Fraser Firs from North Carolina, as demand for that particular tree has grown in recent years.
Catering to the die hard, cut-it-yourself crowd, customers are given a handsaw upon arrival and are directed to the tree-appropriate area of the farm, depending upon the variety of Christmas tree they're after. Out in the field, individual trees are tagged depending on their cost, so that customers know the price of their tree before they cut it down. Once the tree is cut, it's hauled back up to the barn, where it is shaken and bailed, to make it more manageable, and then tied down on the roof of the car.
During the weekend after Thanksgiving and the following weekend, Batchelor and Malcom estimate that they sell 300 trees per day, which translates to near 1,000 people.
In total, Jack's Creek sells between 2,500 and 3,000 Christmas trees a year; half are the imported Fraser Firs, which are constantly kept in water to preserve their freshness, while half are trees that were grown on the property.
When it comes to their customer base, Batchelor says Jack's Creek doesn't get much local business. Instead, people from suburban Atlanta frequent the farm in search of their Christmas tree.
"Most [of our business] comes from Lawrenceville, Gwinnett [County], Walton [County]," Batchelor said. "Lake Oconee does good. They'll come out and get those big Fraser Firs."
They also ship trees; destinations have included Maryland, Ohio, Connecticut and as far north as New York.
Seasonally, Jack's Creek employs 25 people. Running the farm during these holiday weekends takes the extra help of family, friends and members of the Morgan County High School baseball team.
"They work and, instead of paying them, we make a donation to the Dugout Club," Batchelor said.
A tradition in itself, the team has been pitching in (pun intended) at the farm for years, coach included.
The Jack's Creek Tree Farm experience amounts to more than just harvesting the perfect Christmas tree.
During the holiday season, the farm offers a light-speckled hayride, a mere $1 a person, as well as a petting zoo complete with calves and pygmy goats, all of which are borrowed from neighboring farms.
"Most of the animals are borrowed," Batchelor said. "We borrow them for the Christmas season and take them back."
Additionally, the concession stand at Jack's Creek is open and selling items like boiled peanuts and hot chocolate, among other beverages.
Grandma's Christmas Shop, an 1850-era farmhouse, sells various decorative items, like ornaments, garland, bows and fresh-made wreaths, shipped in from North Carolina.
Batchelor and Malcom also offer school group tours; they've developed a program where they tell stories, like "The Magic Christmas Tree," in an effort to educate students about the farm. At the end of this particular hayride tour, the students do indeed find the Magic Christmas Tree, and it just so happens to be decked with enough candy canes for the entire class.
To date, they have about 1,000 students slated to come to Jack's Creek on field trips.
Aside from catering to trees for this year's Christmas holiday, Batchelor and Malcom continually plant Christmas trees for next year.
"We're always planting back," Batchelor said. "We're planting every year, rotating trees. We plant 3,000 trees a year, every year."
Add the nursery stock they have to keep up with, and they plant about 10,000 trees a year.
In the end, Batchelor and Malcom have done their best to be sure that time at Jack's Creek Tree Farm, even if just for an hour or so, is time well spent - as a family.
"The idea behind it has been family," Batchelor said.
Jack's Creek Tree Farm is located at 2291 Price Mill Road in Bostwick, and can be reached at 706.342.1855 or online at www.jackscreekfarm.com.