Tree farm is family tradition

Every Christmas season, people make the trek to Glenelg for holiday decorations

business profile Triadelphia Lake View Farm

December 06, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

For her first venture out into the world, 8-day-old Maggie Zwarich accompanied her parents as they picked out a Christmas tree at Triadelphia Lake View Farm.

Her parents, Jennifer and John Zwarich, had moved to Catonsville from Illinois a couple of years ago, but had never bothered with a tree in Maryland because they always returned home for the holidays. This year was different.

"This is the first time we'll be here as a family," said John Zwarich as he and his wife headed toward the trees. Snoozing Maggie was warm and snug in a sling against her mom.

Though Jennifer said she comes from a "fake-tree family," John said a friend in Illinois owns a tree farm, and he grew up with real trees for the holidays.

Choosing and cutting a tree is a time-honored tradition in many families, and in Howard County, most of those families go to Triadelphia Lake View Farm, which has been selling trees for about 20 years now.

This year, the Brown family, which has owned the farm for generations, hopes to sell as many as 10,000 trees. It's an odd business, they acknowledge. They work year-round and yet make most of their money in nine days - the Friday after Thanksgiving and the December weekends leading up to Christmas.

On those weekends, the farm adopts a carnival-like atmosphere, with Santa posing for photographs, a hay-bale maze and other children's attractions. The Dayton 4-H club sells hot chocolate and food. Sometimes, more than 100 cars clog the dirt driveways and parking lot.

"We have people who are here every year, and it's a tradition to have their picture taken with that Santa," said Linda Brown.

Triadelphia sells several species of trees, including firs and spruces, and charges the same price regardless of size. As Jamie Brown explained, a small tree is just as valuable as a big one because it has the potential to grow larger over time.

The Browns own 89 acres off Triadelphia Mill Road in Glenelg. Jamie's mother, Linda Brown, said she's found deeds dating to the 1860s, but she's not sure how long her family has owned the land. Jamie Brown believes he is the fifth generation of Browns on the land, making his 3-year-old son, David, the sixth.

Around 1980, Linda Brown said, the land was classified as preservation land, meaning it can't be developed. In the mid-1980s, the Browns switched from dairy farming to tree farming. They started out selling about 2,000 trees a year, said Jamie Brown.

The Browns buy seedlings that are about 6 inches tall from tree farms all over the country. They take about seven years to grow to Christmas-tree height, which is about 7 feet. The farm has about 70,000 trees in all, but most are not tall enough to sell. The Browns also sell pre-cut Fraser firs from a farm in North Carolina.

In previous years, the Browns also grew vegetables, which they sold at local farm markets, but they won't be doing that in the future. Instead, they're hoping to add pick-your-own strawberries by the summer of 2008. They already have pumpkin patches and host school tours and hayrides in the fall.

The Browns don't take change lightly, but each year they try to do something new, said Jamie Brown. A couple of years ago they added a cash register and began accepting credit cards. Then they built a barn where they sell wreaths, mistletoe, tree stands and other holiday merchandise.

This year, for the first time, the barn is heated.

One thing that's stayed the same is the focus on service. Though customers cut their own trees, the Browns will bring them from the side of the road to the barn, shake them to remove dead needles and tie them to the roof of a customer's car.

"It's a family business, and we try to treat everyone like family and give a personal touch," said Linda Brown.

Within a half-hour, the Zwarich family had picked out a white pine. "You guys have gorgeous land out there," Jennifer Zwarich said to members of the Brown family as her husband handed over a credit card.

And so another area family had started a holiday tradition at Triadelphia Lake View Farm. "You're not getting a video of our tree being shaken?" John asked his wife.

Triadelphia Lake View Farm is located at 15155 Triadelphia Mill Road, Glenelg. The phone is 410-489-4460, and the Web site is www.tlvtreefarm.com.

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