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December is here and that means many of you are now in the market for that perfect Christmas tree. Some of you will go the “no mess” route with an artificial beauty, and many more of you will pick up a fresh cut fir at a nearby garden center or roadside lot. But some of you will bravely trek out to cut your own right from the ground at a place like Turkey Hill Farm in the Merrimack Valley, one of the remaining Christmas tree farms that dot the Bay State. 

Here, a small home and barn inhabit the crest of a hill, surrounded by acres of perfectly manicured evergreens - some 15,000 of them - from 3 year-old Fraser Fir sapling to majestic 12-year old Blue Spruce. It’s a landscape sprung from the imagination of Dave Butt.

“I bought this piece of land not knowing what I was going to do with it. And I started clearing a little bit and putting a few Christmas trees in,” said Butt.

It was the late 1970s and in his off-hours from his job in the claims department at an insurance company, Butt just kept clearing – and planting.

“And then in 1988 the thing had ballooned to the point that I thought I could make a living at it, so I started doing it full time,” he recalled.

Butt says – at the time- he was among a rash of enthusiastic new tree farmers who swelled the ranks of the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association.

“We had over 300 members in the early ‘80s and it’s now down to 110, 120,” said Butt.

The reasons for that are varied. Land in Massachusetts is expensive, so wholesale is pretty much out. That’s why most fresh cut trees at your local garden center or church lot are from Canada, Maine or North Carolina. To make it here in the Bay State, your farm has to be your store. And that – says Butt – takes more work than most people – even would-be growers – realize.

Spring planting time is a mad rush. “You have to keep the weeds down around ‘em. In the summertime of course the mowing has to be done, the trees have to shaped and sheared,” says Butt. “We don’t do a whole lot of spraying here, pesticides, but there are a couple that have to be done.” He says there’s also repairing machinery, paperwork and all the things that go into running a business to do.

And this is farming after all, so that means none of this work happens on Butt's time line. It happens on Mother Nature’s.

"You can’t go off to the Cape and sun your buns on the beach. Everything’s gotta be done when it’s gotta be done. Otherwise, everything fails down the road," Butt said.

Butt’s tenacity has paid off. His trees have won dozens of awards at the Topsfield Fair. And his clever spin on tree tagging has struck a cord with customers, who pick their tree early, marking it with everything from huge Christmas balls to gaudy ribbon to sneakers.

“We moved up two years ago from Texas so this is a whole new novelty for us," said two customers. "This is the coolest place on Earth, you come here in the beginning of November, you bring the most God-awful garland you can find, you drape it all over your tree, everybody does it then you come back here closer to Christmas, cut it down take it home put it up. We love it.”

After decades at the helm, perfecting his craft, Butt has decided to move on. This year is his first as simply an employee on the farm. The new owner? His daughter Diane, a chiropractor by trade.

“Things are not getting that fun in healthcare as far as all the insurance and everything so that made it a little bit easier to switch over to this,” she said.

Like her father, Diane loves the work, but - for her - the real draw is the customers, who never cease to surprise and delight.

“We’ve had people come visit their tree,” Dianne Butt said. “They come and tag the tree and decorate it then they come visit it, then they come back and cut it. We’ve had people write poems about their tree before they’ve even selected it.”

And while he’s stepped away from day-to-day operations, Butt hasn’t left his home on the farm - or the 12 acres of trees that he planted surrounding it.

“I’m 73 years old and I don’t have to be doing anything if I don’t want to at this stage but I just discover that I wake up in the morning and I’d just as soon come out here and fiddle around with the Christmas trees.”

Trees that - over the years - have been the Christmas centerpiece in tens of thousands of New England homes, thanks to three decades of fiddling by one former insurance man.

If there is something you’re curious about let Edgar know. Email him at curiositydesk@wgbh.org. He might just look into it for you.