DENVER – After six years of tireless preparation, Grace Tree Farm owners Doug and Krista Sidell opened the first choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm in Denver last year.
In 2010, the Sidells decided to leave behind the hustle and bustle of Charlotte for a farm with more privacy and some acreage where they could raise their two young children, Noah and Anna Faith. Doug, who still works as a real estate broker in addition to his many hours spent on the farm, set out to find the perfect piece of land in an up-and-coming area and happened upon 6 acres on Beth Haven Church Road in Denver.
“We were looking for an area with good schools and a pretty countryside that we felt would be a great place to build our home and raise our family,” he said. “Being in the real estate business, I was looking for somewhere where everything would line up, and we fumbled upon this property that fit all of our criteria.”
At the time, the Sidells weren’t sure how they wanted to cultivate the land, but they definitely didn’t want to raise livestock. They considered several different options, such as an orchard or a vineyard, but ultimately settled on opening a Christmas tree farm given the fact Doug earned his bachelor’s degree in forestry from Michigan State University.
The Sidells planted their first trees in the spring of 2011, but it wasn’t until later that year when Doug met Henry Helms of Helms Christmas Tree Farm in Vale that they started to find their way in the industry.
“Henry Helms has been in this business for over 60 years,” Doug Sidell said. “He’s my mentor, and I give him the credit for showing me how to do all of this. He’s been an integral part of all of our success because he taught me everything I know from how to avoid mortality when planting the trees to how to apply fertilizer and shear the trees. He’s become a very good friend of mine, and we talk every week.”
Grace Tree Farm opened to the public last year, but the Sidells had to invest money and countless hours of work before they ever earned a dime in return.
“The hours that I have to put in are very seasonal, and it starts with the planting done toward the end of winter in February or March,” Doug Sidell said. “Then after that we begin fertilizing, which starts with taking soil samples in the fall and winter prior to planting the trees so that we can know what to fertilize for each individual field. … Fertilizing obviously helps the grass grow as well, so we have to do quite a bit of mowing between the trees that requires a fast and agile mower to be effective. After that is when you start shearing, which typically begins around the Fourth of July, and then you have to shear the trees again about a month before opening for business.”
The Sidells opened for business after Thanksgiving last year and found instant success. Families traveled from as far as Salisbury and Albemarle, not only for the pristine Christmas trees grown at Grace Tree Farm, but also for the experience that the Sidells hope will become a tradition for many.
“What we experienced last year is that people come out here all excited because they just can’t wait to cut a tree,” Doug Sidell said. “We could have the most perfect Fraser firs on display, but they don’t want one of those, they want the experience of being able to cut their own tree while sipping on some hot cider to just plain make a tradition out of it.”
Grace Tree Farm also includes a timber pavilion that has become a popular destination for family photography. Those traditions are selling points the Sidells hope to continue building on into the future, with plans to one day include a log cabin on the property that would be open to hosting family events during the holidays.
Grace Tree Farm is now fully stocked with roughly 4,000 trees planted across 5 acres. White pine, Leyland cypress, Carolina sapphire and green giant arborvitae are the four tree species grown on the farm, but the Sidells also offer Fraser firs brought down from the mountains as well.
“This is truly a grace offering from God that we have been blessed with, so this isn’t Sidell’s Tree Farm, it’s Grace Tree Farm,” Doug Sidell said.