On an overcast afternoon at Santa’s Tree Farm and Village last week, families walked among rows of Monterey pine and Noble and Douglas firs with saws in hand. They were looking for their ideal Christmas tree.
It’s a scene nearly unchanged since the farm’s origin in 1972. But this holiday season, with coronavirus cases surging statewide, seasonal Christmas tree farms have had to adjust rules to keep customers safe and follow county guidelines. These days, families visiting Christmas tree farms on the Coastside are wearing masks and cutting with saws scrubbed with disinfectant wipes.
Natalie Sare and her husband, Dan, have been running the farm together for 40 years. Some of the changes they’ve made include requiring visitors to wear masks and use hand sanitizer, wiping down saws, setting up plexiglass by the registers, and doing temperature checks for employees. There is even a safety announcement emanating from speakers near the gift shop.
Since it opened on Nov. 21, the farm tucked away on Highway 92, with 70 acres of trees to choose from, has attracted countless Coastsiders and visitors. Sare noted one of the biggest differences this year is that, while it’s been busier than usual, customers are coming in at a more gradual rate. They’re not getting overwhelmed on weekends; it’s a more moderate flow of people throughout the week.
When speaking with customers, Sare said she’s heard most people looking to get outside feel safe on the farm, where it’s easy to be socially distant. With many people working from home, their schedule is more flexible and they don’t need to cut a tree on the weekend.
“Instead of a big mad dash on the weekend, it’s more staggered and spread out,” Sare said. “And that’s really been nice. The customers feel safe because it’s not so crowded.”
The gift shop is open, and families can still watch the
outdoor puppet show. The farm’s train is still running, but each car is designated for one bubble group, and disinfected after every ride. They won’t be having storytime with Mrs. Claus this year, but kids are still allowed to visit and take pictures with Santa Claus, who hears what kids want for Christmas behind plexiglass.
“It’s actually more people than we’ve had in the past, but it’s all evened out on different days,” Sare said. “Hopefully, they’re enjoying themselves while still being safe.”
Rancho Siempre Verde, the family-owned farm 27 miles south of Half Moon Bay, saw much of its property go up in smoke with the CZU Lightning Complex fires in August. But most of the Christmas tree stock survived, and the farm is open Friday through Sunday. The farm’s website emphasized that those who are most concerned about coronavirus can come on Fridays. It also may limit the number of cars at any one time.
Anthony Stoloski, the owner of Ski Lane Tree Farm in Half Moon Bay, noted a similar trend with crowds dispersed throughout the week, mostly congregating on weeknights. But with the ever-looming stay-at-home orders pending, Stoloski noted it’s tough to know what is coming next.
“People are more excited to get that tree up earlier,” Stoloski said. “From what I’m hearing, they want to enjoy it because they’re all home. Nobody’s traveling. They want to get it up and enjoy the tree.”
Stoloski and his family have run Ski Lane for the past nine years. This year’s precut crop came from a farm in Oregon, which saw devastating wildfires this summer. Stoloski said his trees were not affected by the flames, but he knows a few farms that were torched.
“I know a lot of people are trying to support small businesses,” he said. “We’re mostly a locals’ lot and we try to keep our prices low for locals. And the locals are doing a good job supporting us.”