Interview with Farmer Teresa Greyson
How long have you been farming?
We bought our farm in 2012, we had been looking for a piece of property that we could enjoy on weekends and eventually retire to, however, we loved it so much here that we decided to move up our timetable and sell our home in Richmond so we could live here full time!
What inspired you to become a farmer?
I have always loved the country. As a child, I used to love going to my family farm in Summit Point, WV and I'm not sure I ever outgrew that. Likewise, Jeff's family raised dairy cattle in Roanoke, VA so he knew about farming and he knew the hard work that was involved. In looking for property, we weren't necessarily looking for a farm - particularly a Christmas tree farm - but we loved the trees and the idea of having families come at Christmastime to find a tree.
I think we became true farmers the moment we bought the property and said, 'what else can we grow here?' That's a question we are still exploring but this year we opened up in the fall and sold pumpkins, gourds, offered hay rides and, of course, sold our raw honey and fresh brown eggs!
What is your mantra as a farmer?
Keep it natural is our mantra. We want to do what we can to make sure we don't damage our animals or our land. We are always looking at best practices for everything we do - we feed our chickens only organic food, we are careful not to use pesticides on the trees for harm to our honeybees, etc. Everything in nature is interrelated and we are very respectful of that. Our honeybees fly up to 5 miles a day, we can't protect them when they go that far, we can't teach them not to land on crops sprayed by farmers, all we can do is try to provide them a buffet of wildflowers and clover that will hopefully keep them close by and protected.
How long does it take for a Christmas tree to grow from start to finish?
To grow a 6-8 foot Christmas tree takes about 8 years. White pines grow faster than some firs, so it's more of an estimate than anything else.
Can you share an interesting fact about tree farming that most people don't know?
I think one of the funniest things we've run into is the fact that most people think you plant a Christmas tree (any variety) and it grows up looking perfectly shaped. They have no idea all the snipping and cutting that is done to that tree by the time it's fully grown and ready to be sold. They have no idea how many times we've had to mow around that tree so that the weeds don't take over and hurt the bottom branches. I know exactly what they think because I used to think the same thing, 'how hard can it be to grow a bunch of Christmas trees?!" Well, we love it, but there's no question but that it's a lot of work.
How do you view your role in your local community?
We are very mindful of the fact that people can get raw honey, fresh eggs and Christmas trees from any of a number of places. If all you want is a Christmas tree, then even grocery stores have them. We don't look at grocery stores or even those temporary tree lots that pop up during the season as our competition, because we offer so much more than that. We are about offering a great experience that, in the future, will translate into wonderful memories.
What makes us different is our approach to selling trees. For us it's about more than just selling a tree. We don't charge a fee for admission and most of what you can do here at Bees & Trees doesn't cost a thing. We have a firepit where kids are often cooking S'mores and parents are warming their hands, we have corn hole, Nigerian Dwarf Goats for petting, we have chickens and sell their fresh eggs in our gift shop, "Santa's Hive." There, in our shop, you can also purchase hot chocolate, handmade Christmas decorations, handmade tree skirts, etc.
We feel like our farm gives folks the opportunity to make purchasing their Christmas tree a fun event not just something they can check off their list. In that regard we feel like we are giving our community a place they can come and truly experience the joy of Christmas!
How would you describe your relationship with the land you farm?
We very much feel as though we are a part of this land. We know what needs to be done and we know when we must do it. We know we are responsible for how our bees survive and have to balance that with the needs of our Christmas trees that might need spraying. All farmers do a balancing act dance to survive. They must stay on top of current trends and solutions for new problems they face because they care about their land and want to protect it.
What is the most challenging part about your job?
I think making money will always be the biggest challenge for farmers. You buy your cattle at a great price and before it's time to sell them, the market has swung and you find you won't be making as much as you had planned. Our raw honey has sold out this first year, but we lost several hives of bees so we'll need to buy more bees this year just to make the same amount of honey we sold out of! The market is tricky and there are many outside influencers that affect how successful a farmer will be - some of those are predictable, some not so much.
What is your hope for the future of farming in the United States?
I hope that this country takes a harder look at how important it is for us to be able to provide food for our citizens. Importing apples from China, for example, may seem like a good idea because they are so cheap, but then we become dependent on foreign apples and our apple growers - who cannot compete - get out of the business. Apple orchards take years and years before they are truly productive, so once we relinquish a crop like that, we would be hard pressed to get back into it. Growing locally is good for all of us for so many reasons and I wish we would get back to that.
What do you wish your people understood better about being a farmer?
I'm not sure that people know what hard work farming is. Dairy farmers have to milk their cows twice a day, every day, no matter what. That means if they want to take a vacation, someone has to do that work for them - cows just don't stop producing milk! Likewise, if a farmer plants his corn and there is a subsequent drought or flood, that farmer loses his entire crop and the income from that crop.
Yes, sometimes buying locally can cost more money, but it is as important to support our farmers as it is to eat healthy foods. We are all in this together - from raising good food to eating good food.
Teresa and Jeff Greyson own the 43 acre Bees and Trees Farm in Elkwood, VA. As the name suggests, Bees and Trees focuses on 2 things: producing honey and christmas trees. In addition, they also have 14 hens, 3 baby goats (Ariel, Sebastian and Flounder) a mule (Pippy Long Ears) and 5 cows.
After working as lobbyists in Richmond, VA, they decided they wanted to spend their latter years doing something they loved - farming. After a one year apprenticeship with the previous land-owners to learn about growing Christmas trees, they decided to expand to beekeeping and agritourism.
They have about 3500 trees this year, ranging from canaan fur trees, to scotch pines, white pines and devil's fur. The farm is open to visitors every Wednesday thru Sunday from 10-4pm during the Christmas season.