- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

VOLUNTOWN, Conn. (AP) - An observant Sunday afternoon visitor to Hartikka Tree Farms could spot several trios lurking within the thousands of firs and spruces: three lost gloves resting on a ground coated with pine needles, three Land Rover Discoverys with Christmas trees secured to the roof and three Nativity scenes on display at the Hartikka barn.

And, at the back of a parking lot, three pickup trucks with the tailgates down.

“We come out here and get our tree (and) make a day of it, whether it’s snow or sleet or rain,” said Stan Brittsan of West Warwick, Rhode Island, as he manned a bratwurst-covered grill in the bed of one of the trucks and listened to a game on the radio.

In addition to being a great grilling location, Hartikka Tree Farms offers “good quality trees,” said Brittsan.

Brittsan and his family meet up every year with friend Harry Woloohojian, who started the Hartikka tailgating tradition about 10 years ago.

“Every year we look forward to it,” said Woloohojian, who was accompanied by his wife, Carla, his children, 8-year-old Harry and 13-year-old Zara, and their goldendoodle, Belle. Belle has attended every one of Woloohojian’s holiday tailgates.

Woloohojian, who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island, said it was more than 20 years ago when his cousin brought him out to Hartikka Tree Farms. Then he got married and had a family and thought they should experience the place, too, he said.

Although his wife was nevertheless huddled under a thick winter coat, Bittsan said he was thankful that Sunday afternoon was warmer than the usual later November weather. A bright, clear sky hung over the parking lot, with a waxing gibbous moon visible above the trees.

As he grilled, his family and friends sat in folding camping chairs that lined the Christmas tree fields, watching happy dogs trot along the paths and young couples struggling to attach trees to their vehicles.

The game being broadcast softly by the tailgaters didn’t have much competition: The farm was busy but quiet on Sunday afternoon.

But the drone of the radio and the constant whirr of the tree-baling machine was punctuated by shouts from excited children in the tree fields, like one boy’s, “Dad! I found an amazing one!”

Tree farm owner David Hartikka said he opened for business on Nov. 28 and will keep the farm open daily from 9 a.m. until dusk.

He sells four types of firs and two different spruces, all started from seed, although the Fraser Firs, which retain their needles well, are the most popular. Hartikka said he also offers a section of particularly tall trees, well upwards of 7 feet, which can be hard to find at some farms.

Customers come from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York to buy Hartikka’s trees and handmade wreaths and garlands. He inherited the business from his father and, while farming Christmas trees since 1955, has seen three generations of customers pass through his barn doors.

“We keep things simple,” said Hartikka, who doesn’t farm anything other than the trees, “and people seem to appreciate that.”

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