Sat | Jan 23, 2021

Evergreen Christmas trees hit the sidewalks - Farmers optimistic despite Gordon Town road, COVID hurdles

Published:Tuesday | December 1, 2020 | 12:11 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Nebo Smith (right) trims a Christmas tree with help from Ipal Smith outside Tropical Plaza along Constant Spring Rd in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, yesterday.
Nebo Smith (right) trims a Christmas tree with help from Ipal Smith outside Tropical Plaza along Constant Spring Rd in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, yesterday.
Alex Smith is optimistic that the season will turn out great for Christmas tree farmers despite COVID-19 restrictions affecting their normal routine.
Alex Smith is optimistic that the season will turn out great for Christmas tree farmers despite COVID-19 restrictions affecting their normal routine.
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With a breakaway ruling out commute along their normal Gordon Town road route, Christmas tree farmers have seen their journey from Penlyne Castle to Constant Spring Road in Half-Way Tree more than double this year.

As the Christmas shopping season got going last weekend, they ventured out with fresh-cut evergreens for their first day of kerbside sales last Saturday.

“We have to take another route around Portland, Holywell, and Irish Town,” Ipal Smith told The Gleaner. “Normally, we would take one and a half hours from Penlyne Castle to Kingston. Now, it’s like four hours.”

The longer route has resulted in a “likkle increase” in the price per foot for each tree, but Smith said that customers are understanding of the challenges.

That, however, is not the only challenge the farmers are facing as a COVID-19 pandemic has created a different sales environment.

Normally, the farmers or their assistants would sleep in vehicles on the plazas and keep watch at night, but nightly curfews have now ruled out that option. The curfew will also impact the time they arrive on the plazas in the mornings.

In the event that a potential customer swings by while they are on their way or have packed up for the day, they have left a tree on display with their contact information.

“COVID hasn’t impacted us so much yet, because we are still getting our regular customers,” Smith said of early sales. “We are still making calls, and what we do now is make [home] deliveries at an extra cost.”

He added that he was uncertain of the level of support they would get from the hotel sector, which has been hard hit by travel restrictions and low occupancy rates as countries around the world grapple with the virus.

Trying to stave off other losses, Smith said that they have people watching the farms while they are out selling, as thieves usually prey on the trees in the height of the Christmas season.

While the recent heavy rains and the COVID-19 restrictions have made things challenging, they remain optimistic for the season.

“The roads have been damaged badly,” Alex Smith said. “Even the farm roads going to the Christmas tree farm, most of the roads are blocked up until today, so it’s much more tedious to get the trees from the farm to the main road.”

A tree farmer for roughly 15 Christmases, Alex was among vendors along Constant Spring Road yesterday.

He told The Gleaner that he has been getting more delivery orders from his loyal customers, as many work from home.

“Also, normally this time of the year, some people would travel overseas and come back later in the year, but they are home now, so they are getting their trees a little bit earlier,” he said.

For 27 years, Caswel McFarlane has sold Christmas trees and stands in the Corporate Area.

He would make multiple trips to Penlyne Castle to buy trees for resale, but has not done so since his pickup was stolen four years ago.

At half past one, he had not made a single sale from his collection of tree stands, having got there at 11 a.m.

“The early buyers, some of them have stands already,” he explained, hoping that business will pick up.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com