Matthew Daley: Betting on Christmases yet to come

Matt Daley is a master of delayed gratification. He and his wife Lauren purchased their Charlotte land in 2016 with the goal of opening a tree farm. He started planting that year, and although he has been selling trees grown elsewhere, Split Rock Tree Farm will not be a cut-your-own operation until 2024. Daley is sure it will be worth the wait.

Daley doesn’t have an agricultural background, but he did his homework. The family was living on North Greenbush Road, just south of Horsford, when Daley began looking at soil maps for his prospective farm. Acreage further south on Greenbush came on the market, and he saw that the soil was rocky loam and not clay. “We loved living in Charlotte, and this was great soil for trees,” he said. “It all came together.”

Courtesy photo. Working at the farm is a family affair. Left to right, Owen, Matt, Lauren and Griffin Daley with Greta in front.
Courtesy photo. Working at the farm is a family affair. Left to right, Owen, Matt, Lauren and Griffin Daley with Greta in front.

To make sure he knew what to do, Daley contacted Werner Tree Farm in Middlebury and asked if he could come and help out. “David and Cheryl and their kids were awesome,” Daley said. “I did some planting and shearing, and they imparted their knowledge.” Daley has gone to several seminars on tree farming and has been impressed with the community. “Everyone is super friendly,” he said, “and people aren’t shy about sharing information.” Daley believes many established tree farms are going out of business because the younger generation isn’t willing to take over when their parents retire. “Younger families coming into this business are really being welcomed,” he said.

In the case of the Daleys, the younger generation is already involved. Owen, 13, and Griffin, 11, help with mowing in the summer. Greta, who has just turned 9, is starting to assist as well. The boys have helped with planting, as has Daley’s wife Lauren. They also staff the register during the selling season and help customers with parking.

It’s crucial to have the family help because Daley has a full-time day job. He has worked for the Vermont State Police for 18 years and cherishes the friendships he has made and the variety of work he has engaged in there.

Daley said there is an absence of cut-your-own Christmas tree farms in the Charlotte area, so he is excited about the opportunity to fully open his farm to the public next winter. Most of the trees he has planted are balsam firs but there are also some Fraser firs. Last year, the farm sold roughly 100 pre-cut trees between 5-7 feet tall. This year, they will be purchasing 150-200 trees from a farm in Williamstown.

Many people don’t realize that tree farms are a year-round endeavor. Daley has been buying 1,200 transplants each year for his farm. Starting in mid to late May, he plants 1,000, saving the extra 200 to replace those that don’t make it. From the end of June through August, the area around the trees has to be mowed, and the trees have to be sheared.

This year, mowing has been exceptionally challenging because of all the rain. In September and October, Daley makes improvements to the field and takes down some old trees to make room for new plantings.

The fun starts the day after Thanksgiving when the selling season begins. Daley concedes that some of the 6-8 feet trees he has could be sold, but for the second year, he’ll stick to pre-cut trees and wreaths. Daley buys plain wreaths from a farm in Glover and the family decorates them with bows and other ornaments. Last year, three local businesses — Elli Parr, the Gilded Elephant, and Safe Haven Honey — joined the family at the farmstand.

Daley is committed to not using pesticides on the farm despite having some issues with aphids which suck on the sap of new growth, making the needles curl. He notes that this isn’t dangerous to the tree, but it does make them a little less desirable.

Even with his full-time job, Daley is happy to have his time on the farm. Part of that stems from the fact that he gets to work with his wife and kids but part of it can be traced to his love of being outdoors.

“I’d be very bored if I didn’t have something else to do,” he said. “This keeps me moving and keeps the kids engaged. I’m trying to instill in them the same desire I have to be outside.”