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Locals say Christmas tree farm a full-time job

Staff Photo: John Bohn Nicole Restrepo, 10, of Lawrenceville, carts her family's hand cut Christmas tree at Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville. The Restrepo family spend over an hour selecting their live cut tree.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Nicole Restrepo, 10, of Lawrenceville, carts her family's hand cut Christmas tree at Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville. The Restrepo family spend over an hour selecting their live cut tree.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Marlon Restrepo, his wife Vicki, daughter Nicole, 10 and son Nicholas, 3 months, of Lawrenceville, search for a live cut Christmas tree at Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Arthur Groves, of Lawrenceville, carts his hand cut Christmas tree while his golden retriever dog Piper runs along side, at Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville. Grove is a five year customer of Thompson's tree farm. At right is Vicky Restrepo and her daughter Nicole, 10, of Lawrenceville.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Marlon Restrepo and his daughter Nicole, 10, of Lawrenceville, cut a Christmas tree at Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville. The Restrepo family spend over one hour, carefully selecting their tree.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Tommy Thompson, right, owner of Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville, assists Nicole Restrepo, 10 of Lawrenceville, with the haul out of the Restrepo family Christmas tree. The Restrepo's spend over an hour's time in selecting and hand cutting their tree.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Marlon Restrepo, of Lawrenceville and his wife Vicky, daughter Nicole, 10 and son Nicholas, 3 months, shop for a Christmas tree at Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Isabella Pease, 7, of Dacula feeds a piece of bread to a Scottish Highland cattle at Thompson's tree farm in Lawrenceville. Pease visited the farm with her father Mitchell Pease to chose a family Christmas tree. The Pease family have purchased their Christmas tree from Thompson's Tree Farm for four years.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Owning a Christmas tree farm is fun. There are visits from Santa, an ever-present holiday spirit and a constant flow of families young and old looking to go home with that perfect spruce or cypress.

But don't let all that fool you -- it's hard work, too.

"There are nights we can't hardly walk in the house we're so tired," Denise Thompson said this week.

Added husband Tommy, with a hearty laugh: "I didn't know it was going to be this much work."

The Thompsons -- Tommy retired from UPS, Denise a former county schools employee -- have owned and operated a Christmas tree farm on their Prospect Road property in Lawrenceville for 11 years now. They estimate they sell roughly 600 trees grown on about five acres of land each year.

They'll tell you they love their work, but that it's just that. Work.

After the busy Christmas season, January brings many weeks of cleaning up, removing stumps and replanting. There's constant trimming and adjusting, and staking smaller trees so the elements don't bend or break them. Once things warm up, grass between rows of Thompson Farms' five species of Christmas trees has to be cut just like any other lawn.

Twice-annual shearing takes up "another month of your life," Tommy Thompson said.

"You're working fulltime, all year around," he said. "There's something to do all the time, really."

The idea for the Thompsons' farm was actually born a few decades ago, when Tommy Thompson made a trip to Michigan with a high school buddy. That year, they came back with several hundred trees and opened up shop in a Sandy Springs parking lot.

Thompson said he fancied the idea of a tree farm back then, but started his career instead. When his in-laws moved to the spacious property on Prospect Road, however, the dream was back.

Nowadays, folks come from as far away as Helen, Smyrna, Chamblee and Conyers to cut their own tree at Thompson Farms. All that hard work is worth it.

"I think it's just the memory," Denise Thompson said. "We think our trees are pretty, but so does every other tree farm. It's just the experience."

"Everybody's in a good mood, everybody's happy. It gets you in the Christmas spirit."

Marlon and Vicky Restrepo brought 10-year-old daughter Nicole to the farm this week, and spent plenty of time meandering through acres of trees to find the perfect one. Nicole said it was "hard to pick."

"I love being out on the farm," Vicky Restrepo said. "It's the way it should be. The tree may not be perfect like a store-bought tree, but it's a real tree and you're doing it together."