CONYERS - Chuck Berry thinks some people may be letting an old-fashioned holiday tradition die - cutting down their own Christmas tree.
Berry owns the four-generation Covington Christmas tree farm, Berry's Tree Farm on Mount Tabor Road, and said he's seen a decrease in sales the past few years.
He said he wasn't sure if it's because people aren't buying live trees any more or if they just aren't buying them from tree farms.
"It could be because of the fast-paced lifestyles; they might be going to retail outlets, rather than having to come cut their own," he said. "Especially in metro Atlanta, so many choose-and-cut operations are closing down."
He's had people approach him about buying the farm, but he won't sell.
"We're still here and going strong," he said.
Berry believes families enjoy farms like his better than getting trees from retail outlets.
"You don't have to wonder how long the tree has been cut," he said of his 40-acre farm. "We've always tried to provide that tradition, and we have a lot of extras that you wouldn't find anywhere else. We have train rides, and the concession stands are open on the weekends."
Martha Mobley has had her five-acre Christmas tree farm, Mobley Tree Farm at 4351 Bowen Road in Stockbridge near Conyers, since 1984, and she feels that not as many people are buying real trees.
"It's probably because the artificial trees look so good now," she said. "Also, they don't have to get a new one every year."
Still, she said she gets a lot of families who come out to cut their own Christmas tree.
"If I cut it down myself, I know it's fresh," she said.
Between 30 and 35 million American families are predicted to bring home a cut Christmas tree this year, according to a press release from American Forests, a national conservation organization that provided the White House with the National Community Christmas Tree in 1924.
Jake Mason, a seasonal employee at Berry's for about 10 years, said the past couple of weekends the farm has been busy with families coming to buy or cut a tree.
The farm opened Thanksgiving day and should be open on Christmas Eve, he said.
"There's always a few people who want a Christmas tree (on Christmas Eve)," Berry said.
Mobley said families who keep enough water on their tree can keep it fresh for four to five weeks, even with the extreme drought conditions in Georgia.
"(The trees) haven't grown as much this year; we haven't really watered," she said. "But (the drought) doesn't seem to affect them too much, as long as we keep some water on them."
Berry's hasn't been able to take care of its 40 acres of trees as it has in the last few years due to lack of rain and watering issues.
"We weren't able to trim a lot of the trees because we were afraid they would die," Mason said. "And the ground hasn't really been wet enough to plant any because we didn't think the roots would attach."
Berry said the drought conditions haven't really affected the larger, older trees.
"Most of the larger trees just go dormant as they would do in the winter," he said. "But they don't grow any. I don't think we lost any trees this year, though."
Michelle Floyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: AT A GLANCE
Purchasing, care and disposal of a cut Christmas tree, the seven basic rules:
' Buy a fresh tree, checking the condition of the needles - fresh needles bend rather than break with gentle pressure.
' Shake your tree gently to check for loss of needles. Losing needles may mean the tree is too dry and could be dangerous for your home.
' Check the cut end of the trunk. A fresh tree should be sticky with sap rather than smooth and dry.
' Trim the end of the trunk before placing it in water. This allows a fresh route for water to travel into the trunk.
' Check the water level every other day, adding more if needed. If the water level drops below the trunk, a seal will form, preventing the tree from absorbing water.
' Keep your tree away from heat sources, such as a heating duct or television set.
' Recycle your tree. Check with the local recycling center for options. Mulch your tree for the garden. It's important to note: Never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace. The pitch content in the bark and needles can cause them to burst into flames from the intense heat.
Source: American Forests at www.americanforests.org