Tim and Bonnie Moser, who own Shepherd’s Way Farms in Laurel Springs, have been growing Fraser firs for 37 years. For the past seven years, they have operated a Christmas tree market at North Hills. The farm, nestled in the North Carolina mountains between West Jefferson and Sparta, has been in Bonnie’s family for five generations. Christmas trees have been the main crop since the 1980s, and, at one time, Tim harvested 35,000-50,000 trees a year to sell wholesale to big box stores. He has scaled back his operation to 3,000-5,000 trees for his three Raleigh tree lots and his son’s tree lot in Concord. We recently caught up with Tim while he was cutting fresh trees to bring to Raleigh.
North Hills Live: We hear there is a Christmas tree shortage this season because Christmas tree sales dipped during the recession, and as a result, growers planted fewer trees. How does that affect your Shepherd’s Way Farms tree stand at North Hills?
Tim Moser: I believe we have a tree for everyone who wants one, and we can offer the trees at a reasonable price. Today, I am cutting natural trees because some of my customers like that particular kind of tree — it hasn’t been sheared to have the traditional Christmas tree shape. I make sure I have a variety of trees to please my customers — fat trees, slim trees, tall trees, tabletop trees — something for everyone.
But yes, there is a shortage across the state. There was an oversupply of trees, so growers cut back on growing seedlings. It takes 12 years to grow a six-to-seven-foot tree, so there will be fewer trees for the next five years. I have grown Christmas trees for 37 years, and it seems like a long time, but it is only my third crop of trees. I am planting my fourth crop now, and I hope I get to see it harvested.
NHL: Why did you become a Christmas tree farmer?
TM: I went to Furman University on a golf scholarship, and then played some professional golf. I soon realized I was living my Dad’s dream instead of my own. I had always wanted to live in the mountains, so I moved there. I taught school and coached football and basketball. In the summers, I worked with tree farmers to stay busy, and I started planting some trees on my own. After about five years, the school wanted to move me to administration, and I wasn’t interested. That’s when I started tree farming full time. Now I grow ornamental gourds and pumpkins, too.
NHL: Do you have customers who return to Shepherd’s Way Farms for trees year-after-year?
TM: We have a huge following. We have a good product — a fresh product at a reasonable price. I literally have Christmas trees standing on the lot that were cut less than 24 hours ago. Bonnie and I have tried to create a good atmosphere where people can come and enjoy the sleigh, the reindeer, and other decorations while having a large enough number of trees to make a decision. We also strive to provide good, friendly service to the customers.
NHL: Tell us about your farm in Laurel Springs.
TM: One of the interesting things about our farm is that it is a fifth-generation farm. The farm itself has been operating for over 150 years, and that is quite unusual. It was not always Christmas trees. It has been Burley tobacco, it’s been sheep, it’s been cattle — but for the last 30 years, it has been mainly Christmas trees. And now, it’s Christmas trees and pumpkins.
NHL: Has the farm been in your family for five generations?
TM: Yes, Bonnie’s family has farmed the land since before the Civil War. The farm’s name comes from her family’s name, Shepherd — and they raised sheep and were shepherds at one time too! There are not many families in the state who have been farming for more than 150 years. I hope it carries on with my son, and I think it will. It’s in our blood, and it’s what we love to do.
NHL: When do you decorate your Christmas tree at home?
TM: Real soon, I hope. Bonnie gets upset with me every year because she says I’ve gotten everybody a Christmas tree but her.
NHL: What do you enjoy most about tree farming?
TM: I sort of get teary when I talk about what I do. My prayer is that each and every tree that goes into someone’s home reminds them of God’s everlasting love for us. Growing Christmas trees enables me to share the evergreen as a symbol of God’s love through His gift of Jesus Christ. That’s why I do it, and that’s why I love it so much.
NHL: What are some of the most memorable parts of the Christmas tree season for you?
TM: My favorite Christmas tree every year is the last tree that I cut. I put it in St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, and it is always the biggest and the most beautiful.