Agriculture commissioner marks ‘Green Friday’ with Christmas tree farm tour in Ashfield

Brothers and the fifth-generation of Cranston’s Tree Farm farmers Oliver and Cyrus Cranston speak to Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle and state Sen. Paul Mark while leading a tour of the Ashfield farm on Friday.

Brothers and the fifth-generation of Cranston’s Tree Farm farmers Oliver and Cyrus Cranston speak to Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle and state Sen. Paul Mark while leading a tour of the Ashfield farm on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

A view of one of Cranston’s Tree Farm’s Christmas tree fields in Ashfield.

A view of one of Cranston’s Tree Farm’s Christmas tree fields in Ashfield. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Cranston’s Tree Farm co-owner Seth Cranston lifts up a Christmas tree that Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle cut down, while state Rep. Natalie Blais, left, looks on. The tree will be donated to a local family in need.

Cranston’s Tree Farm co-owner Seth Cranston lifts up a Christmas tree that Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle cut down, while state Rep. Natalie Blais, left, looks on. The tree will be donated to a local family in need. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle speaks to Cranston’s Tree Farm owners and brothers Seth and Jonathan Cranston on Friday.

Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle speaks to Cranston’s Tree Farm owners and brothers Seth and Jonathan Cranston on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 11-24-2023 2:54 PM

ASHFIELD — Like many Americans after Thanksgiving, crowds of Franklin County residents left their homes on Black Friday to knock out some holiday shopping.

In Ashfield, though, it wasn’t to purchase electronics or other big-ticket items, but rather one of the most important Christmas items of all. Folks were heading to Cranston’s Tree Farm to pick up their Christmas trees, all while state Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner Ashley Randle proclaimed the day to be “Green Friday” in celebration of economic contributions made by the more than 200 active Christmas tree farms around Massachusetts. The event is held in partnership with the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association.

“It really has become a tradition,” Randle said of declaring the day “Green Friday,” which coincides with the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s “Go Green on Black Friday” initiative that encourages people to go on guided hikes throughout the day.

Speaking to the massive draw to Christmas tree farms, like the entirely family-run Cranston’s, she said “they’ve really become a destination” for people in western Massachusetts, Boston and from all around New England.

The Christmas tree industry creates seasonal jobs and contributes about $3.5 million to the state economy each year, and a single acre of Christmas trees sequesters nearly 500 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, while also creating a stable habitat and feeding area for all manner of wildlife, according to the Green Friday proclamation.

Green Friday marked the grand opening of Cranston’s Tree Farm for the season — a soft opening was held on Nov. 18 and 19. The weekend following Thanksgiving is “by far the biggest weekend of the year,” according to Jonathan Cranston.

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Cranston, who runs the farm with his brother Seth as the fourth generation of Cranstons, said they have about 30,000 trees they take care of on their Baptist Corner Road property and in their sapling nursery. Depending on the year, they sell about 3,000 to 4,500 Christmas trees annually. The family also collects maple syrup, farms hay and raises a herd of beef cattle.

The Christmas tree industry, Jonathan Cranston noted, is a bit of a different beast than any other sort of farming. It takes approximately seven to nine years to grow a Christmas tree and, while they can be hardy plants, they do need consistent maintenance throughout those years, such as trimming in the summer.

“It’s an investment where there’s no return every year,” Cranston said, adding the family farm started in 1981 and their first sales began in 1989.

That long investment also means more chances for extreme weather to take its toll on their farm. Cranston said they were affected by 2022’s severe drought, which was then followed up by several severe rainstorms this year that killed approximately 20% of new saplings planted in the spring due to fungal and root rot complications.

After reading the Green Friday proclamation, Randle cut down a Christmas tree, which will be donated to a local family in need. Following the tree cutting, two of the youngest Cranstons, Oliver and Cyrus — dressed as Santa’s elves — led Randle, state Sen. Paul Mark, D-Becket, and others on a tour of their family’s Christmas tree and farming operation.

“This was probably killed during the flooding,” Oliver Cranston said while showing off a dead tree with burnt orange needles. “Some of the others are recovering well and I think they’ll be good.”

Randle said it was great to see the next generation of farmers and she was impressed by the boys’ tour, especially their “deep knowledge about all the operations on the farm.” One is a middle school student at Frontier Regional School and the other is a freshman at Franklin County Technical School.

Cranston’s Tree Farm is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and from noon to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. Both pre-cut and cut-your-own trees are $72 plus tax, unless otherwise marked. They also offer handmade wreaths and maple products. The family’s Facebook page can be found at Facebook.com/CranstonsChristmasTreeFarm.

The Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association’s website at christmas-trees.org includes a map of farms around the state. More information from the Department of Agricultural Resources can be found at mass.gov/info-details/christmas-tree-farms.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.