UNION BRIDGE, Md. - Retail experts call the growing
popularity of cut-your-own Christmas trees "consumer
engagement," but Michael Ryan, owner and operator of
Clemsonville Christmas tree farm in Union Bridge, calls it
"part of a fun-filled memorable experience."
An increase in the popularity of artificial trees over live
trees several decades ago has leveled off in recent years,
and Ryan said interest in live trees "is creeping back."
Ryan, a native of New York, spent several childhood Christmas
seasons selling trees on a corner lot. He attended Catholic
University in Washington.
After graduation, he worked as a school furniture sales
representative. In 1965, he purchased a manor house built in
1706 by John Clemson that was modeled after George
Washington's Mount Vernon home and situated on 250 acres of
Several years after planting his first trees, the Christmas
tree business was launched. "This started out as a small
little venture and each year we kept adding and adding to it
until it is what we have now," he said.
Ryan explained that the business "started as a family thing
because I have always been a family-type man."
The farm - which Ryan operates with his wife, Mary - is now
seeing the second generation of Ryans providing a fun family
experience. Ryan's three sons - Paul, Tom and Mike - work
weekends at the farm.
"This is a great opportunity for families to come out, spend
time together and enjoy themselves," Mike said. "The trees
are easy to cut down and easy to get on the car."
The elder Ryan estimates that between 60 and 70 percent of
his business comes from repeat customers. Mike noted that the
first two full weekends of December are the farm's busiest
Among the repeat customers are Jim Lucey and his wife,
Noreen, parishioners at St. Rose of Lima Parish in
Gaithersburg. This year marked the 39th time the Luceys,
members of their families and friends have made the annual
trek to the Clemsonville tree farm.
"It's just a fun thing. He (Ryan) is a very nice guy. We've
seen his kids grow up and he has watched my kids grow up,"
A former Secret Service agent who is now head of security at
the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Lucey said that
"we look forward to this adventure every year. It has become
The farm is sustainable - planting three seedlings for every
tree that is cut. This year, Ryan expects to plant 7,000
seedlings. Most are ready for harvest about seven years after
they are planted.
All trees at the Clemsonville Christmas tree farm - from the
smallest table-top tree to 14-foot towering pines - cost $20.
Visitors are provided with saws and other equipment to chop
down their tree. They have free range of the growing fields
as they search for the perfect tree. Coming back to the
homestead, visitors get help securing their trees to the car
and they also are treated to cider and cookies.
Szczepanowski is a staff writer at the Catholic Standard,
newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.