December 7, 2018 by leap Ray
This Christmas season marks the end of an era for Mountain Top Tree Farm in Oakland.
Although the wholesale side of the business will continue with trees, wreaths and garlands, this year will be the last for retail sales of bulk wholeale items like Christmas trees from the farm.
The decision came about partly because of the physical labor involved in running the business, and partly because of the fact that new trees haven’t been planted to replenish the supply, and the trees take eight-to-12 years to mature.
“We’re going to continue to do wholesale, which means shipping our orders out to other people who will sell them,” owner Aleta (DelSignore) Glotfelty explained. “So that part of the business will remain and we’ll still do our wreaths and garlands (such as for Habitat for Humanity, Lions Clubs and fundraisers.) That end we will continue as long as we have trees.”
Glotfelty explained that the tree farm was begun by “Doc” Custer more than 50 years ago.
“He was the veterinarian who owned Pineview Veterinary Hospital and then the state of Maryland approached him to plant trees for conservation, which he did,” she said. “Then as these trees grew, I guess he spoke with other people and they decided to start selling them as wholesle christmas decoration like Christmas trees. That’s how the Christmas tree lot originated. He was also one of the original founders of the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers Association, and that’s been around for 50 years.”
Glotfelty noted she lived in the house on the property adjoining the tree farm, and when Custer decided that the farm was becoming too much for him, he approached her and asked if she wanted to buy it.”
She agreed, and Randy Sisler, who had worked with Custer for many years, continued to manage the farm for her. When he was killed in an accident in 2012, Glotfelty and her partner Carl Robison stepped in to run the farm, along with the help of staff members who had worked there for years.
“They got us into it and that’s how we took it over,” Glotfelty said. “I’ve learned a lot in six years.”
Robison runs the outside part of the farm with the wholesale trees, while Glotfelty manages the inside with the wreaths and garlands and handles all the bookwork. A crew of a dozen women helps with making the decorations. In the field, a crew of about a dozen men is on the seasonal staff.
“I love the people I work with,” Glotfelty said. “They’re all very supportive and helpful, and I appreciate it.”
The farm covers approximately 72 acres, with trees grown on about 60 of them.
“There are thousands of trees,” Glotfelty said. “There’s really no way of counting. This year we are probably looking at moving 2,500 to 3,500 off the farm through wholesale and retail.”
The predominant type of tree is Fraser fir, which is the best suited for growing in this area. Other types are Canaan fir, Norway spruce, a few bue spruce and white pine.
The largest size available from the farm is about a 16- or 18-foot tree.
“But they’re really hard to run through our baler,” Glotfelty said. “The largest one that normally we would sell here would be a 12- to 14-foot.”
Much of the work for the trees begins when the weather breaks in the spring.
“We start by clearing the field, cleaning up all the debris that’s there, mowing, shearing and shaping the trees, fertilizing, and adding spring pesticides,” she said.
Various types of area wildlife enjoy the acres of trees throughout the year, including deer, turkeys, groundhogs and the occasional bear. Some of the smaller crawly varieties take up residence in the trees.
“Before we start cutting branches for our wreaths and garlands, we kind of like to wait until it’s frosted once or twice because they are filled with spiders,” Glotfelty explained. “We do try to wait until some of that stuff dies off.”
On the wholesale end, trees are taken to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland — within a three- to four-hour radius of the farm. Many are delivered by Robison, but some loads are also picked up by the wholesale customers.
“Some have their own tree farms, but have either depleted their trees or have planted new trees and they’re not ready yet,” Glotfelty said. “Or they bought an existing tree farm that had been neglected for years, so they’re just kind of using our trees as filler until theirs are ready.”
The retail side of the business includes the option for live trees and a fresh-cut lot where customers can choose from trees that are cut daily.
Customers are also invited to walk through the fields to select their own trees.
“You can take the family; you can take your dog,” Glotfelty said. “We provide hand saws, and you cut your own tree and bring it down. We’ll bale it and load it.”
She said the farm has gotten a lot of repeat customers.
“I love it because everybody that comes in is so happy,” she said. “It’s Christmastime, and it’s great. It’s a really nice feeling. I’m really going to miss the retail end. Over the last six years, I’ve seen families come in every year and you remember the little ones, and they grow.”
Glotfelty knows that without customer support, the farm wouldn’t have done so well. She said a lot of tears were shed with her customers over the decision to discontinue retail sales. In fact, she decided to stay open for a year longer than originally planned because of the reaction she got.
“I know how many people have made this a tradition and I hate seeing that tradition go by the wayside,” she said. “I feel badly about that. We so appreciate their patronage over the last 50 years.”
In this final year, the tree farm will be open for retail sales on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It is located at 145 Pineview Drive, behind the veterinary hospital.