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Tree farm enjoys another successful holiday season

Ethan Duncan of Neely Farms hauls a freshly-cut Christmas tree to be readied for a family to take home.

Ethan Duncan of Neely Farms hauls a freshly-cut Christmas tree to be readied for a family to take home.

By DREW GRANTHUM/Staff Writer

For some, going to get the family Christmas trees involves a walk to the garage and dragging out a box.

Others, however, find plastic trees just won’t do. For Chilton County residents looking for real-life Christmas trees, one place in particular helped locals with their evergreen needs.

Neely Farms in Thorsby provides anyone looking for an authentic tree the chance to come find one that meets their family’s needs, as well as offers the opportunity to relive the old-fashioned tradition of cutting down a tree.

The farm is owned by Michael and Ginger Duncan and run with the help of sons Ethan Duncan and Chad Mizzell as well as Ginger’s father, Chesley Neely. Ginger’s brother Carl and his wife Lacey, as well as their children Calvin and Evelyn, help out as well.

Ginger Duncan said the Christmas tree rush was a little different than the typical Christmas shopping rush; most shoppers come earlier in the season in order to have their trees for a longer time.

“Usually the first three weekends (Nov. 29-30, Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 13-14) are busy,” she said, laughing. “You don’t eat or anything.”

The farm specializes in the sale of homegrown pine trees, but offers other varieties to help cater to a assortment of preferences.

“Mainly, we grow Virginia pine, but (customers) also like the Fraser firs,” she said. “Our No. 1 is Virginia pines because they can cut it themselves.”

This season, Duncan said the farm experienced an influx of visitors, although specific numbers weren’t available as of a Dec. 19 interview. She credited the use of social media with helping to boost sales this season.

“We’re up,” she said. “I can’t say how many up we are, but every year we increase some. We started doing some giveaways this year (through) the Facebook page. We did a few wreaths and (gave away) a tree on Facebook.”

Duncan also said she saw new faces come to the farm this season to cut a tree, and said the farm takes a toned-down approach to their process, making the focus about family members enjoying each other’s company.

“A lot of people that used to go to (chain stores) are coming out and enjoying their family time,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of rides or entertainment; it’s basically they come out and spend time with their family. We serve hot chocolate and give a candy cane before they leave.”

Duncan said the idea came from remembering her own family’s Christmas tradition of cutting a real tree, and the lack of opportunity to do so in Chilton County.

“We always went out to a tree farm, and there were none around here,” she said. “We had a friend in South Alabama (who) kind of pushed us along with (the idea).”

Chesley Neely said the family friend that encouraged them to start the farm sold Ginger on the idea, as well as sold him on the prospects of seeing families coming together.

“He got to talking about the kids,” Neely said. “Christmas trees, to me, are like the Field of Dreams. They built a baseball field so baseball players would show up; we planted Christmas trees so the kids would show up. Well, (he) got Ginger all excited about it and told her, ‘There’s nothing to it.’ We were so ignorant; we got 1,000 trees and planted them and had beginner’s luck. We had 999 of 1,000 trees live.”
The farm opened in 2007, and since then the goal has been to “not be commercialized,” and “to be about family time,” Ginger Duncan said.

Duncan also said the staff only helps families in processing the tree, not the selection.

“We provide the saws for them, they go out and pick their own tree and cut it,” she said. “We have the guys come out with the barrel carts so they get to ride back with their tree. We have a shaker that’ll get the needles and we’ll bail it.”

While the rush this season was busy, Neely said the focus of the farm made raising the trees a labor of love.

“If you have Christmas trees, kids will appear,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about — the kids and the families.”