Over the past couple of years, Diane Cornett Deal has been seeing a number of new customers visiting the choose and cut Cornett Deal Christmas Tree Farm. This is good news on one hand, but not so good news on the other.
Some customers are finding the tree farms they visited in the past are no longer in business. Deal said, “What’s happening is some of the choose and cut farms have closed down, not so much because they’re out of trees, but because the owners are aging out. We’re an aging group of farmers.”
The Watauga County choose and cut Christmas tree farms have fallen from 36 farms a few years ago to just 10 to 12 farms today. This is a change in direction, since over the years, the High Country has established itself as a traditional choose and cut holiday destination.
Deal said, “Many have tried to turn it over to the next generation, but in many cases they have decided not to continue with the choose and cut part of the business and are selling their trees wholesale.”
Deal plans to continue her choose and cut business for as long as possible. The Cornett Deal Christmas Tree farm has been in the Cornett family for generations.
“My great uncle sold this farm to a young couple who worked in Boone. After a few years, they decided to move closer to Boone, and I had an opportunity to buy back the land,” said Deal. She bought the farm in 1986.
Prior to Deal’s purchase, the farm was used for tobacco growing and pasture fields. She said when her dad asked her what she was going to do with the farm, he told her that, “If I don’t do anything with the land, it would go back wild, and that our ancestors worked too hard to clear it to let that happen.”
Deal’s great-great-grandfather, Jack Cornett, settled in the Mountain Dale community at the turn of the century. It was her father, Clint Cornett, that suggested growing Christmas trees and planted the first tree on the family land in 1979.
“He gave me my first 1000 trees, which I planted out in front of the house,” said Deal. About the same time, her brother, Dale Cornett, showed an interest in Christmas tree farming, and the next year, she and her brother planted 36,000 Christmas tree seedlings.
“It took us three months, but we got them all planted in seedling beds, one at a time…on our hands and knees,” said Deal.
Deal opened her choose and cut operation 25 years ago. “My first customer was a family from Nashville who found my farm on the way home from a family Thanksgiving in Charlotte. They’ve been back every year and have never missed a year getting their tree from us.”
Deal’s choose and cut farm is complete with hayrides, a craft shop, hot chocolate, tree bundling and loading. She operates the farm while her brother operates the wholesale operation, Cornett Carolina Trees. Along with his family land, Cornett leases land from nine other farms, about 100 acres in all, to harvest 12,000 wholesale Christmas trees each year.
The farm employs 15 or so people to work with Deal on choose and cut weekends. Thanksgiving is the biggest weekend for business, followed by the next weekend. After that, it starts slowing down. “The most popular size trees are the seven to eight foot size, but we do have request for larger sizes. We have some 14 footers out there,” says Deal.
The family feels their Christmas tree farming helps keep the beauty of the mountains in tact. Cornett said, “Once developed, land can never be reclaimed as farmland. Part of the reason people come to these mountains is the beauty of the hillsides.”
The brother and sister team feel that working with family is among the highlights of working the Cornett Deal Christmas Tree Farm. Deal said, “We are looking at four…soon to be five generations that have been involved in the Christmas tree industry…
…The fifth-generation baby has not been born yet, but he’s on the way.”