There’s a small lot nestled off of South Main Street toward the highway, in the shadow of an old building that’s seen better days, next to a gas station and a Bojangles restaurant. You may have sped past it without a thought, hurrying toward Christiansburg or I-81. Blink, and it’s easy to miss the modest green and red hand-painted sign: “Local Trees Cut Biweekly.”
But for George Hall and the 1,500 Blacksburg area students, organizations and families who stop by his stands each year to buy Christmas wreaths, trees and other decorations, it’s much more than just a patch of dirt and gravel off of a busy street: it’s a holiday tradition.
Walking down rows of Christmas trees, with his bright, cheerful eyes and thick white beard, it’s tough not to make an obvious comparison.
“I don’t know, I guess I fit the image some,” he said, laughing. “My beard used to be flaming red, but the years have made it white.
“My favorite thing about selling Christmas trees…” Hall began, smiling, watching children chase each other up and down the aisles as their parents browse. “My favorite thing is having people that come back every year and say ‘we were so happy with what we’ve got from you; it’s always been so nice.’”
Hall runs Idyllwood Farms, a fixture of the Blacksburg Farmer’s Market for over 30 years. Agriculture runs in his blood. He grew up on a dairy farm in Craig County, and was milking cows and driving tractors by the time he was 10 years old.
Locals know Idyllwood Farms especially for produce, which he still sells from his stand at area farmer’s markets. Decades ago, he branched out into Christmas trees on a whim, planting some seedlings on the same farm where he grew up.
“We decided to grow a few trees,” Hall said, inspecting rows of Fraser firs and blue spruces waiting to be sold. “Then it turned into a pretty big thing.”
He opened his first tree stand in Blacksburg more than 20 years ago, and his business has since taken off. Around the holidays, Hall finds time to visit his several local stands and catch up with his regular customers, even while putting in long hours on the farm. It’s difficult to believe that he is in his sixties.
“The trees require a lot of work, a lot more than just planting and cutting,” he said.
A tree from Idyllwood Farms begins as a seedling from Michigan or Pennsylvania before coming of age on Hall’s third generation family farm. They take seven to 10 years to mature, during which time they must be regularly trimmed to maintain their conical shape, and constantly monitored for anything which might disrupt their growth. His day might begin as early as five in the morning and can keep him up past 10 at night.
Hall and his wife used to do all of the work, but they have since had to hire additional staff. Their age, he confesses, is catching up with them.
While he works in the fields, his employees David and Shannon keep things running smoothly at the South Main location, where they have been busy on an unusually balmy Sunday afternoon in December. The smell of evergreen mixed with a slight tinge of gasoline and chainsaw exhaust hangs in the air.
The two men hurry to help a steady stream of customers, and to keep the lot cleaned and stocked with fresh trees as more and more arrive. David has been a full-time employee for two years, Shannon has helped out since Hall expanded to the South Main location five years ago. They both are proud to work for a local, family-run organization.
When the traffic finally slows, Shannon retires to the yurt — a Mongol-inspired temporary structure that houses the business side of the operation — to take a quick break. He has a few bites of Jack Link’s beef jerky and washes it down with coffee from his thermos. A tree covered in decorations shines in one corner.