By JIMKEVLIN• Special To AllOTSEGO.com
In 1969, Ned Filor heard about a state Ag & Markets program that encouraged farmers to grow Christmas trees on vacant land as a cash crop.
That was 50 years ago this year, and sons Ken and Frank are still at it on the Filor Farm, just south of Dreams Park, intending to sell 400-500 trees before their market inevitably dries up the day before Dec. 25.
“He planted Scotch pine, white spruce,” said son Frank, who was born the following year. “3,000,” from the state’s Saratoga Tree Nursery.
The father passed away in 1994, and if you stop out there today, Frank and elder brother Ken are running the operation, assisted – as they have been each season for 13 years now – by Jennifer Eckler of Cooperstown.
It takes about 10 years for an evergreen to grow into a Christmas tree, and the trees were about 4 years old when the elder Filor bought them.
“I was already working when I was 7,” Frank remembers, in what might have been the first year the family took their trees to market.
His dad had gotten permission to sell trees at an ice cream shop – in a log cabin, the son remembers – near where the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce is today.
(That would have been the Cooper Cabin, just north of Stewart’s, which had “great ice dream” during the summers but was closed at Christmastime, said Veronica Gil, a lifelong resident, whose dad owned the gas station on the other side of Stewart’s.)
The Filors found themselves competing with a service club selling trees in the vicinity, the family decided not to come back, Frank said.
So the next year, the lad was standing in the icy cold outside Gene Bettiol’s first Red Barrel convenience store. The father had gotten permission from Bettiol, father of Southside Oneonta, to give it a try on Route 23.
Over the years, the operation expanded. For a while, Frank hauled trees into the Hudson Valley to be sold at a relative’s place in Stony Point.
By then, the Filors were offering wreaths and kissing balls as well.
While the Filor Farm is on Route 28, the father first planted trees on Sibley Gulf Road, then on additional land on Cooper Road. At one point, Frank contracted for 18 acres in Garrattsville, and planted 10,000 trees there.
Ned Filor was born in Tuxedo, Rockland County, and after college worked for Ag & Markets as a food inspector, ending up farming locally – never dairy, always raising beef and hogs.
He and wife Elaine, who has also passed away, raised three sons and three daughters in addition to Ken and Frank.
For a while – at Ag & Markets’ encouragement – other farmers were supplementing their incomes with Christmas trees, but eventually it slid. “I know of nobody else around here anymore,” Frank said.
Out front the other day, there were dozens of trees available – all fresh cut, said the brother, an advantage to having the tree lot so close to the stand.
While he was being interviewed, Ania Krasinski, director of the Daniel J. Palm Teen Center in Stamford, showed up and bought a larger and a smaller tree for the center. “We’ve been coming up for three years,” she said.
With thousands of trees planted over the years, many have grown beyond harvest-ing, said Frank, walking to the far end of the lot, where the offerings looked 12-, 14-feet tall, and taller.
Those have been topped off trees grown too tall for household use, although they are in demand by institutions and restaurants.
While there are still Scotch pine and white spruce available, other trees have become more popular in recent years. Balsam fir are aromatic, but the needles can be sharp. Soft, full Frazier firs are current favorites.
Asked to assess the competition, Frank said, “I just know what we do, what we offer: the freshest trees – if you don’t cut them yourself.”