December 5, 2023
• Christmas trees seem harder to come by this holiday season, causing some Needham sellers to shift their operations.
Volante Farms is bustling all December, thanks to their sizable tree inventory and other seasonal decor, but trends indicated it may not be the predictable sales month it typically is.
Surprisingly, the 2008 recession may be to blame.
At the time, farms lacked excess capital, leading farmers to plant fewer fir trees, said Teri Volante Boardman, co-owner of Volante Farms. Those trees would now be mature enough to cut and use as Christmas trees, she said.
Low supply and high demand leads to high prices, she explained.
“There was a chaos this year of, ‘We’re gonna run out of trees,’” Boardman said.
Boardman’s brother and co-owner Dave Volante traveled to New Brunswick and Quebec a few months ago to scope out new suppliers, finding four growers this year. As a result, Boardman said they’re offering the “best quality we can possibly get.”
Though trees were a little tougher to find this year, she said the farm is selling just under 6,000 total, including balsam firs — marketed as the “traditional Christmas tree” — and fralsam firs, a cross between balsam and fraser firs. The tree lot is open every day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Christmas Eve, when the lot closes at 4 p.m., according to their website.
Locals can also pick up balsam and fraser firs from the Needham High School Boosters Club during what may be their last Christmas tree sale.
Lingering effects of the pandemic are largely to blame, Boosters President Rob Ticktin said. One recent year, their supplier and their entire family caught COVID, which negatively impacted their ability to ship trees out, Ticktin said. Before that, ice storms damaged their tree crop. Both incidents resulted in the Boosters only receiving about half their expected number of trees, Ticktin said.
While that isn’t the case for this year’s batch, the cost for the firs has risen steeply.
During the Boosters’ annual sticker drive, the club recently made more than $40,000 in profits, Ticktin said, whereas the Christmas tree sale has a much tighter margin.
“We’re spending upfront like $24,000 in hopes of making $30,000 for a net profit of $6,000,” he said of their 315 trees. “It’s a lot of risk.”
A volunteer organization, the Boosters rely on help from high schoolers and young athletes, who are directly impacted by the money raised — about $25,000 covers financially burdened students’ sports fees each year. The club also funds 10 annual student athlete scholarships totaling $8,000, and up to $800 per team for specific needs or requests.
Ticktin said 2023 has been “a banner year so far for Needham athletics,” particularly for football and boys soccer. For the youth they serve, he said they hope to find a way to sustain the winter fundraiser.
“I’d love to keep the Christmas tree sale going. Maybe it morphs into something like a wreath sale or something like that next year, we’ll see,” Ticktin said. “It’s something I think a lot of people would like to see continue, but it needs to make sense.”
Until Christmas, the Boosters tree sale runs Thursdays and Fridays from 4-7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Claxton Field.
Rumblings of a tree shortage seem to have prompted early buyers at the Norfolk Masonic Lodge, which has already sold about half of its more than 900 trees, Past Master Scott Inglis said. The local freemasons have held their own Christmas tree sale for close to 35 years, Inglis said, stationing their stash beside the Needham Free Public Library, behind the Christ Episcopal Church of Needham parking lot.
Their New Brunswick tree stock may change year to year, Inglis said, and is often dependent on the weather.
“If there’s a drought one year, then a couple years later, you’re going to see problems with the trees, or if there’s too much rain, that affects the growth in that particular crop,” Inglis said. “You never know.”
The Norfolk Masonic Lodge provides annual scholarships for two graduating seniors and donates a couple dozen trees to the Needham Community Council, which distributes them to families in need, Inglis said. The lodge also supports a number of Needham organizations, including the YMCA and Christ Episcopal Church, Inglis said.
Their tree sale is open Monday through Thursday from 5-8 p.m., Friday from 3-9 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 12-6 p.m.
Shopping locally for a Christmas tree is important because “the money stays in town,” Inglis said.
As a local business, Volante Farms fields feedback and places speciality orders for residents who inquire, Boardman said. The multi-generational, family operation relies on Needhamites to thrive, she added.
“We have a direct connection to the community and people who shop here,” Boardman said.