Saturday, August 30, 2008

Meet Marshall Patmos of Farmstead Acres

By Meghan McCarthy McPhaul

Marshall Patmos and his wife Pati manage 60 acres of land. Five to six acres of their Farmstead Acres property in Westmoreland, N.H., is planted with about 6,000 Christmas trees. The property also includes 35 acres of forest managed for timber sales, and open fields where a few “retired” sheep and about 25 chickens roam. When Marshall and Pati’s two daughters were younger, the family had about 30 sheep, raised for meat and wool. Both girls raised sheep for 4-H.

Farmstead Acres sells about 350 cut-your-own Christmas trees each year, mainly to local folks, but also to some out-of-staters. They grow mostly Balsam firs, but also have some Fraser firs.

Marshall is a retired UNH Extension forester, a job he held for 38 years. He was the Coos County Forester in Lancaster for 10 years, then was Chesire County Forester for the remainder of his career. He and Pati have been at Farmstead Acres about 25 years and have been selling Christmas trees for about 23 years. The first trees were hauled out by a Shetland pony pulling a tarp.

Marshall and Pati have two daughters, who help out at Farmstead Acres. Their 8-year-old grandson and 6-year-old granddaughter are also starting to get involved in the family’s tree farm, and their 6-month-old grandson may also be a future tree farmer.

We caught up with Marshall in May. Here’s what he had to say about managing the land and growing Christmas trees:

How did you get involved in Christmas tree farming?

I had worked with the industry anyway. I was very familiar with the industry. I had worked with Christmas tree growers. I was on the board of directors of the NH-VT Christmas Tree Association for years and years, on different committees. I wanted to keep the land active. I was the state Extension Christmas Tree specialist until I retired. The real way to teach people is to do it yourself.

Do you have a staff?

It’s just really family. We hire a couple of teenagers during the Christmas season. People cut their trees, and we’ll bring it down for them if they don’t want to bring it down. We also have a Christmas shop, with wreaths and decorations, cocoa and coffee and mulled cider. We sell some crafts. We get the wreaths somewhere else, but we decorate them here.

How many family members are involved?

Five or six. Our older grandson is getting excited about it, and our granddaughter. He’s 8 and she’s 6. They’re right next door. He comes and helps with the trees, and she tests the cocoa and stuff – someone has to do it!

Do you plant trees each year?

Yes, about as many as we cut.

What is your favorite thing about being a tree farmer and managing the land?

Seeing the satisfaction of the customers, bringing a little joy into a home. Producing something that a family enjoys and that’s traditional for them. That’s pretty touching. Providing them with an adventure. I enjoy seeing the land kept active, too.

What is the most challenging part of being a tree farmer?

Just doing things in a timely manner, doing things when you’ve got to do it. Even though I’m retired now, I still have a lot to do. I don’t have a lot of free time, which is OK. You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines with any agricultural crop.

What did being the Extension Forester involve?

Well, just helping people with the woodland. We’d examine property and make a recommendation for how to best manage their property, whether it was Christmas trees or woodland. I worked with Crhistmas trees, maple producers, a wide array of things. We’d work with other agencies. Education is the important part. There are also agriculture agents. That’s where 4-H is.

If you have any time after managing your land and helping care for the grand-kids, what do you do?

I’m still a licensed professional forester. I have a 1787 Cape house to keep livable. I’m also chairman of the New England Christmas Tree Alliance. We travel a little bit. I like to hunt and fish and just dub around.

Most people probably only think about Christmas trees when they’re picking one out each year to decorate. What is something about growing Christmas trees that people might not know?

A lot of people don’t realize that it takes eight to 10 years to grow a tree. You have to shape a tree every year to make it look pretty. There’s a host of insects and diseases that we have to monitor for, too. Christmas trees are a crop, just like corn, planted specifically to be grown and keep land open, provide some wildlife habitat.