Jones Family Farms home to harvesting tradition
Each holiday season, thousands of families, from in and out of Connecticut, converge on Shelton’s own Jones Family Farms in pursuit of that perfect Christmas tree.
People of all ages walk the 200 acres searching for that one special tree — from blue spruce to Fraser fir, balsam fir to white pine. Once harvested, people can then add to the experience with some hot chocolate, a drink at the farm’s award-winning winery, a stop at the Holiday Gatherings Gift Shoppe to peruse unique, homemade gifts, or find a wreath or garland to complete their home’s décor.
“We here at Jones Family Farms are able to complement the wide breadth of traditions that people have,” said Tom Harbinson, longtime facilities and hospitality manager at Jones Family Farms and Winery.
“But this time of year, mainly this is about getting a Christmas tree,” added Harbinson. “Harvesting your trees here is a fun activity. We like to say memories are always in season, and that is really true for Christmas trees in particular.”
For more than 60 years, families have been harvesting Christmas trees. This tradition began when fourth generation Philip Jones planted evergreen seedlings on the farm as part of a 4-H forestry project in 1938. Some of these original trees still stand along the edge of the farm, towering 100 feet above today’s Christmas trees.
“What’s nice about Christmas here is that people have visited us for years and years and years and very little has changed,” said Harbinson. “The barns are from the 1880s, and many people coming here today remember what it was like when here as a child. In many cases, they are now married and have their own children, so the tradition continues.”
Another tradition for those harvesting trees at Jones Family Farms is getting a new ornament each year. The commemorative pewter ornament has a new design every, and Harbinson says each one tells a special story.
“There is a story behind every ornament,” said Harbinson, “and when you discover that, it’s like opening a gift. The traditions we have here … the history we impart to people … it really resonates.”
Harbinson said what sets Jones Family Farms apart in the Christmas tree world is twofold. First, he said the farmers, working with the Connecticut Agricultural Experimentation Station and as founding members of Connecticut Christmas Tree Growers Association, grow a “great crop.”
“Secondly, we try to provide the best hospitality in terms of experience,” said Harbinson. “Certainly, you buy a Christmas tree on a lot on the side of the road or at a Home Depot parking lot, but here I can tell you what goes into the growing a Christmas tree, provide information on how to properly care for the tree so it stays lively throughout the season in their home.
“Provide that extra above and beyond hospitality experience, which is so rare nowadays. We take the time and talk to you about something I have cared for for the last 10 years, from seeding in nursery,” added Harbinson.
Harbinson said the farm offers five types of trees — blue spruce, Fraser fir, Douglas fir, balsam fir, white pine and white fir - all of which are aromatic and have great needle retention. The Douglas fir needles are 1-inch, 1 ½ inch long. Balsam fir’s needles are tighter, and Fraser fir tighter still, with a silvery undershine on the needles. Beyond that, the angel white pine has soft needles with soft gentle bows best for popcorn string and tinsels. Colorado blue spruce has stiff bows, best for heavy or antique ornaments.
When it comes to tree maintenance, Harbinson said that the tree just needs water. Once cut, the tree still wants to draw water out from its trunk to its needles, so Harbinson said before placing it in the tree stand, give the trunk a fresh cut so sap is not able to form at the bottom to block water from being sucked in.
“And keep the tree constantly fed with water,” he said. “There are old wives’ tales about using an aspirin or flour or sugar, but the reality is you just need to use clean, clear water. That is all you need.”
Harbinson said that Jones Family Farms is only part of a holiday experience in Shelton.
“I believe there is a variety and depth to agriculture in Connecticut, particularly in Shelton,” said Harbinson. “You can go up to Beardsley Cider Mill and get old-fashioned cider and some apple pie, come here and get your wine and a Christmas tree, then go to Stone Gardens for its craft butchery and get a steak or ham that is grown, reared right here in Shelton. You can have an entire meal that was grown or reared right here in Shelton.”
Harbinson said this is not happenstance, this is the “hard work of various entities and thoughtful planning by the city to preserve lands in agriculture.
“We draw from New York City, Long Island and beyond. We have won gold medals in Los Angeles for our wines, so we are becoming a destination that people making a day of it can go to some ancillary places or restaurants on their way home,” added Harbinson. “We bring a lot of people into Shelton, and hopefully, they will spend time and economically help the community.”