By Tom Collins
PAKENHAM — A Western Ontario farm family who sold their dairy operation to buy a 114-acre Christmas tree farm in Eastern Ontario haven’t had time to sit back and enjoy the benefits of handling an easier commodity: They’ve been too busy getting ready for the Christmas rush.
Pamela, 40, and Grant Martin, 42, purchased Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm from Paul and Ria Ralph at Pakenham and moved in with their four sons at the end of August. Grant stayed on in Huron County as their dairy farm sale didn’t close until Nov. 1. He was in Eastern Ontario for about a week before the tree farm opened to the public for the Christmas season.
“We’ve just gone straight into Christmas trees,” said Pamela. “It’s just full-steam ahead with the new business.”
Grant said there was some initial surprise from Western Ontario dairy farmers when they put their Ethel-area dairy operation, Sunholm Farms, up for sale. The Martins were finalists in the national Dairy Farm Sustainability Award in 2012 and won the Organic Dairy Farm of the Year Award last year.
The couple signed the purchase agreement for the Christmas tree farm just over a year ago and spent many visits since then shadowing the owners to get up to speed on how the new business works. They visited last December to familiarize themselves with the business during the busy season. Grant spent the trip learning how the cut-your-own part of the business works, taking people out to the trees and learning how to wrap the trees, while Pamela stayed inside and learned how to make wreaths and how to run the restaurant.
In January, Pamela and Ria went to the Toronto Gift Show, where the farm purchases much of the merchandise they sell 11 months in advance. Grant also came up for spring planting.
The farm will keep the same marketing plan: Using its Facebook page and web site, as well as advertising in local newspapers. The farm has four full-time employees and various part-time help during the busy season.
Pamela grew up in Eastern Ontario. Her mother, Shirley Fulton, owns Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush, only six kilometres away.
“Mom has been helping mentor us into a retail operation,” said Pamela. “We’ve been sharing some staff back and forth because we have seasonal businesses and the staff have different peak periods. It’s been great.”