- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

PRINCE FREDERICK, Md. — For nearly 40 years, Bob and Carol Ann Scrivener made their living growing tobacco on their Calvert County farm that has been in the family for generations.

But today, the Scriveners are using their land for what some say is a friendlier — and healthier — purpose: growing and selling Christmas trees.

“We decided to try something else,” said Mr. Scrivener, as he sat in the living room of his cozy farmhouse yesterday, overlooking a farm full of tall green Christmas trees.

“We just planted two acres of trees and seven years later we had enough that we could sell a few of them,” he said. “That was [in 2002 and] we’ve sold between 100 and 150 each year for the last three years.”

The farm, at 1130 M.I. Bowen Rd., opens for the season tomorrow.

About eight years ago, the Scriveners got out of the business of growing tobacco — a task Mr. Scrivener says had become to difficult to handle. Five years later, they began selling Christmas trees, each for $35.

The Scriveners planted their first Christmas tree seedlings 10 years ago after a family friend who owns a tree farm in Anne Arundel County urged them to give tree farming a try.

Unlike most tree farmers who charge by the foot, Mr. Scrivener, 63, charges the same price for each tree, no matter its size.

“I like to see people get a bargain,” Mr. Scrivener said. “I don’t like spending a fortune at Christmas time. Everybody’s trying to get your money.”

Mr. Scrivener and his wife have lived on the tobacco-turned-tree farm since 1965. The farm is a family entity since Mr. Scrivener’s great-grandfather first tilled its 200 acres in 1903.

A Catonsville, Md. native, Mr. Scrivener said he fell in love with tobacco farming when he worked on the farm as a youth in the summer. After a three-year stint in the Army, Mr. Scrivener set up shop in Prince Frederick.

Tobacco farming, he said, fulfilled a desire to work with his hands and to craft a beautiful, finished product. “It looks pretty growing [and] it’s labor intensive,” he said.

Forty years, three grown children and seven grandchildren later, Mr. Scrivener gave up growing tobacco for good in 1997 because he was frustrated by low prices. He attributed the low prices to American tobacco buyers purchasing cheaper tobacco from South America and to European buyers not purchasing as much tobacco.

“The children were grown [and] it was getting harder and harder to get help and the price was fluctuating,” he said of his last years in tobacco farming.

The Scriveners then turned their attention to growing Christmas trees full time, in addition to raising cattle and hay.

Tree farming is a year-round task that requires planting, trimming and shaping the trees, mowing the lawn around them and keeping the deer, worms and other animals and insects from destroying them, Mr. Scrivener said.

The Scriveners admit that they sometimes become emotionally attached to the trees after tending to their needs for so many years.

“After taking care of them for seven years, it was almost strange that we were going to cut these trees down,” Mr. Scrivener said, “But that’s what it’s all about.”

Over the years, the Scriveners have turned the seasonal business into a family affair, now that their grown children and grandchildren live nearby.

Mr. Scrivener and his sons and in-laws cut the trees, and the grandchildren hand out candy canes. Mrs. Scrivener sells wreaths made out of the greens from the farm’s injured trees.

For Mr. Scrivener, tobacco and Christmas tree farming intermingle his love of family and hard work. Though he misses his tobacco days, he said tree farming is free from criticism.

“It’s a much friendlier crop,” he said. “You don’t get hassled about causing people to die.”

The Scriveners said they enjoy watching children and adults choose the perfect tree, especially when toddlers squeal in delight when they manage, with a lot of help from adults, to slice a saw blade into a tree.

“It takes a lot of determination for a little fella [and] some of them will stick to it,” Mr. Scrivener said. “I like to see them leave here happy and content.”

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