Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Greg Owen and his wife, Sara, decide on a Fraser fir Christmas tree with their children Samantha, 17, Dawson, 12, and Rylee, 8, at Thompson Tree Farm in Lawrenceville on Saturday. The farm, which is on 21 acres, seven of which have trees on it, has sold more than 1,000 trees. The Owens family of Snellville selected their first-ever real tree after previously always having an artificial tree.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- With 16 days remaining until Christmas, Jeff and Mary Coulter figured it was time to kickoff the holiday season.
The Lawrenceville residents visited the Thompson Tree Farm on Saturday afternoon after some urging from their adult sons to have their house look and smell like Christmas. It's the first time in 20 years the Coulters will have a real tree in their home. For years, their sons had said they were a bit too frugal.
"They just think we're not cool at all because we have artificial trees," Mary Coulter said.
The Thompson family said their 21-acre farm was busy for the third straight weekend, and they sold out of freshly cut trees last weekend. While only pre-cut trees were available on Saturday, after the family had sold several hundred trees since it opened a week before Thanksgiving, that was OK for many customers.
"A lot of people today, they weren't hurt at all that we didn't have anything to cut," said Denise Thompson, who runs the farm with her husband Tommy and several relatives. "They just want the experience of the farm."
That experience includes free hot chocolate and hot apple cider, hay rides and petting of livestock.
The ongoing drought has hurt the farm, as Thompson said trees that normally take four years to grow, now take five or six years.
That dent in supply has also happened in Louisiana, where friends of the Thompsons own a tree farm, to another tree farm in north Georgia. The peak weekend, which is always the first weekend in December, caused them to sell out of trees available for cutting, Thompson said.
"We had more customers than trees in the field," Tommy Thompson said.
For the Coulters, getting a tree meant the season could begin.
"I think that's a good reason to get the tree," Jeff Coulter said. "Because once you get the tree up and the decorations, then it feels like Christmas. If you wait until the last minute, you've shortened yourself of the longer enjoyment."
Added Mary Coulter, "It's time to sit back and look at something pretty."
While this is the 12th year for the Thompson's farm, Tommy Thompson got the idea when he and a friend traveled to Michigan just after they were in high school and cut 600 trees, and brought them back to sell in Sandy Springs. The dream was realized shortly after his wife's family bought the acreage south of Interstate 85 toward Buford for the trees to grow.
"It's always been my dream, but didn't know it'd be this much work," he said with a laugh.
The Thompsons said they've gotten to know return customers, and watch their customers' children grow over the years. Their own granddaughter has already taken to being a greeter to customers.
"We see a lot of people we don't see but once a year," Tommy Thompson said.
Dave and Nancy Crane came from Dacula to the farm, as they have for six or seven years. Because they traveled last year, the Cranes didn't have a tree, but Dave said he looked forward to the smell of the eight or nine foot Fraser fir they purchased. He also likes getting boxes of decorations out to start the season.
"It's a nice, neat tradition," he said.