Hart-T-Tree Farms is owned and operated by John and Kathy Chefas. Founded in 1976, Hart-T-Tree Farms originated in Hart, Michigan. In the mid-1980s, John and Kathy moved the main farming operation to Grassy Creek, North Carolina to grow Fraser fir Christmas trees. Grassy Creek, North Carolina is located in Ashe County, in the northwest corner of the state on the Virginia border. Hart-T-Tree Farms retails its Christmas trees in the counties of Broward, Palm Beach, and Brevard, Florida. With almost 50 years of retail experience, John Chefas is an expert in the business. His attention to detail, knowledge of Christmas trees, and strong work ethic are unsurpassed.
John started selling Christmas trees when he was in grade school. John’s father, Spiros Chefas, sold Christmas trees outside the family home in Chicago, Illinois for over 50 years and when he was young, John was expected to help out! Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, John ran his own tree lot on the northside of Chicago. When John and Kathy met in 1976, John had just purchased his first piece of property in Hart, Michigan to start growing his own Christmas trees. Hart-T-Tree Farms was born soon after over a deep-dish, Chicago-style pizza at a Lou Malnati’s on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. A graduate of the University of Miami (where he played baseball), John and Kathy decided that Florida would be a much more hospitable place to sell Christmas trees — better winter weather! The retail operation moved to southeast Florida in 1980 and opened the first Christmas tree lot in Pompano Beach, Florida. As the Fraser fir Christmas tree grew in popularity, John and Kathy relocated to Grassy Creek, North Carolina in 1986 to grow Fraser firs in their native mountain home.
John’s older brother, Regas Chefas, owns and operates Gethsemane Garden Center, an expansive landscape and gardening retail store on the northside of Chicago — a few blocks from where John and his brothers and sisters (and his parents) went to high school. For a long time, Hart-T-Tree Farms grew trees exclusively for their own retail lots in Florida and for Gethsemane Garden Center. However, in 2008, Hart-T-Tree Farms opened its farm and began wholesaling Christmas trees to garden centers and retail outlets throughout the eastern United States. Now, families across the midwest, northeast, mid-atlantic, and southeast can enjoy a Hearty and Healthy Hart-T-Tree Farms Christmas tree!
In the spring, we plant young trees. These are either seedlings (2 year old plants) or transplants (3-5 year old plants). Transplants have a better survival rate because they are more mature plants and can survive greater fluctuations in the weather, but they are also more costly than seedlings.
Beginning in March, the Christmas Trees are “set out” (planted) either by hand or with the help of a tractor mounted planting machine. Though we have the help of a machine planter, workers are still required to follow behind and secure the tree in the ground. Hand planting is, of course, more labor intensive. The trees are planted in straight rows 6’ apart to allow for proper room to grow. Every 10 or 12 rows a roadway is left unplanted so the farm machinery can easily access the crop.
TRIMMING & TAGGING
After the trees have their new growth, the most painstaking part of tree farming begins: shearing. Many weeks are spent in the fields shaping the trees. Christmas Trees get their first shearing when they are 3’ tall. After that they are trimmed every year. Each tree is trimmed by hand, top to bottom, by workers wearing long sleeved shirts, hats and gloves regardless of the heat. It takes several minutes to shear each tree. Shearing is necessary for high-quality Christmas Trees, because it encourages fullness and helps maintain the pyramid shape.
At the end of the summer, after all the trees are trimmed and enjoying the cooler temperatures, we look all over our fields to determine which trees are ready for harvest. We place colorful ribbons on the trees which will indicate which trees will be cut for our retail lots for the year. Often a whole field is not ready for sale in any one year. It routinely takes two to four years before a field is cleared and ready for new trees to be planted. Trees are tagged for height and quality. On our farm, sizes range from 2’ to 14’. Trees are graded premium or #1s and #2s. Trees that will be harvested in the fall are trimmed tighter, to make them “retail-ready”.
In late November we begin harvesting trees on our farm. Each of the tagged trees are cut and the bottom branches are removed for easy placement in tree stands. Then, we mechanically shake the trees to remove excess debris (weather-permitting). Finally, the trees are slid through a baler which bundles and wraps each tree with twine for transport.
Hart-T-Tree Farm trees are shipped within 72 hours of being cut. Because we typically harvest for independent garden centers and retailers as well as our own retail locations in southeast Florida, we can harvest later in the season, eliminating the need to stockpile trees for weeks on end before shipping. When you buy a tree from Hart-T-Tree Farms, you get the freshest tree on the market.
After harvest, our trees are shipped to retail partners throughout the northeast and Midwest as well as our own retail lots in southeast Florida. Most of our Florida tree lots are sponsored by a local non-profit organization like the Big Bike Riders Association of Florida, the Broward Health Foundation, or the Boca Raton Sunrise Kiwanis. Our Florida tree lots open Thanksgiving weekend and remain open until December 24th (check locations and hours). Our tree lots are run by friendly and experienced lot managers, many of whom have worked with us season after season.
HEARTH & HOME
And finally…Years ago, a tiny tree was planted so that one day it would become the centerpiece of your Christmas season, bringing warmth, joy, and Christmas spirit to hearth and home. And there is nothing like the smell of a real Christmas tree to remind you that Christmas is here, that love, joy, and peace are abundant, and that the world is a beautiful place. Remember to recycle your tree!