Steeped in tradition and sincerity, Berry’s Tree Farm has become synonymous with the arrival of the holiday season in Newton County—an honor not lost on the family behind the operation since its founding in 1894.
by Nat Harwell
At a time when change seems to be the only constant in the universe, it has become increasingly rare to find an enterprise that has thrived for more than 100 years and continues to succeed under the ownership of the same family. While one may think Google or another popular search engine would be required to find such an amazing entity, locals need to look no further than to the Almon neighborhood a few miles west of the county seat. There, Berry’s Tree Farm and Nursery flourishes into its third century.
Back on Jan. 2, 1894, Charles Woodson Berry purchased roughly 206 acres from Thomas Merriwether and started a dairy and row-crop farm operation. The heritage and tradition that started more than 125 years ago has been passed down through four generations of Berry family members; and for more than 80 of those years, buoyed by the Georgia/CSX Railroad line, they turned out corn and hay and raised Jersey cows.
An old axiom holds that all good things must come to an end, and with the death of Charlie Berry Sr. four decades ago, the farm was divided among family members. A little over 100 acres was sold for development as recently as 2004, but the 100-plus remaining acres took on new life in a way that honored the property’s roots.
The dairy business, started way back at the beginning, sold milk to Atlanta’s Sealtest Dairies, but as anyone old enough to remember LBJ in the White House can testify, the 1960s were extremely rough on farmers, in general, and on dairy farmers, in particular. The Berry dairy demise came about in 1969, and when the final herd of cows departed in 1977, a new day dawned for the Berry Farm in the Almon community. Charles Berry planted his first crop of “choose-and-cut” Christmas trees that year, and another tradition began. It took off in a way, perhaps, that no one suspected, as the name Berry’s Tree Farm and Nursery has become synonymous with the arrival of the Christmas season in the Newton County area.
“We’ve been growing Christmas trees for over 30 years for the purpose of providing a family tradition to the people in our area.”Berry’s Tree Farm Owner Chuck Berry
Family members took to the redesigned farm in fine fashion, rolling up their sleeves and literally growing the operation into what has since become a burgeoning business. Visitors to the farm can readily see repurposed, original buildings from long ago: the milk barn, hay barn and equipment shed just north of the railroad, which were built during the 1950s, for example. Today, they house an equipment repair shop, greenhouse, retail sales office and concession stand, public restrooms, train station, Santa’s House and a “pond house” used for meals and gatherings.
The Berrys open the farm for choose-and-cut tree selection around Thanksgiving every year, varying slightly from time to time. Opening Day 2019 will arrive on Nov. 23, a week later than a year ago due to Thanksgiving falling on Nov. 28. Chuck Berry, the current owner and the great-great grandson of the farm’s founder, remains an ardent proponent of the choose-and-cut approach.
“When you come in the gate, we provide you with a saw and you go to the field and choose your own tree,” Berry said in a 2017 infomercial on YouTube. “The biggest advantage of choose-and-cut versus artificial [involves] several things, one of them just being the smell—the smell of Christmas that you don’t get with an artificial tree. Plus, the chance of knowing where your tree has been cut, when it was cut and exactly where the Christmas tree was grown.”
The farm is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., during the season. To serve the procrastinators among us, its gates will remain open on Christmas Eve for those who chose to dilly-dally for that long. Berry’s Tree Farm offers nine varieties of Christmas trees, all evergreen, with the Leyland Cyprus as the biggest seller. Fraser Firs are also popular. The farm offers field trips for school groups throughout the year, and during the Christmas season, there are rides on a miniature train and tractor hay bales, along with refreshments of various assortments, including hot cider and hot chocolate.
Customers who have frequented the farm know their trees can be baled, bored, bundled, shaken and loaded by friendly staff members in less time than it takes to tell about the experience; and all accessories for decorating Christmas trees can be found in the gift shop.
Berry’s Tree Farm and Nursery is a Certified Centennial Farm, a certification that comes only through verification of being in the same family for more than 100 years. During its existence, the outstanding venue has operated on history, heritage, hard work and a genuine dedication to producing quality products and satisfying customers. In fact, there are some in Newton County who do not feel Christmas has truly arrived until they have a Berry’s Christmas tree situated in their home.
“We’ve been growing Christmas trees for over 30 years for the purpose of providing a family tradition to the people in our area,” Berry said. “The most fun of being a Christmas tree farmer is watching families come through the gate, go to the field and choose that Christmas tree and being part of their Christmas tradition.”
For more information, visit berrystreefarm.com, or call 770-786-5833.