Business

Gregg takes final bough on tree farm

"After nearly 20 years in the Christmas tree farming business, George Gregg is ready to pull up his roots.In the past 12 months, he’s been forced to say goodbye to his life’s most constant companions – his wife, Joy, died of emphysema in January, and his faithful 14-year-old Labrador dog, Nick, died in September.Now, Gregg is getting ready to say goodbye to his 11-acre Gregg Christmas Tree Farm near Island Center as the current season draws to a close.“You reach a certain point in your life and you have to make changes,” Gregg said. “I’ve got a bum shoulder, I’m tired and I want to stop working in the mud and rain and cold.”Gregg, 74, is selling his property – farm and all – himself. The plot, just off Fletcher Bay Road, includes a 3,200-square-foot house, a 2,400-square-foot shop and two self-propagating bass-stocked ponds totaling an acre.Oh, and room for more than 6,000 trees of every conceivable Christmas variety, from Noble and Grand and Douglas firs to Scotch pine.“I don’t grow a lot of trees – (Akio) Suyematsu would sell you more trees than I do – but I feel I have a strong point,” Gregg said. “Instead of growing a lot of trees, I’d rather grow fewer and better trees.”Ironically, it was Suyematsu, the octogenarian dean of island farming, who helped Gregg get his start in the tree-farming business 20 years before. He showed Gregg how to clear the lands, how far apart to plant and how to tend them during the warm-weather months. It was initially something for Gregg to do with his four kids, now grown and long gone, after he gave up a 27-year career as a real-estate broker.One daughter, Lisa, still sells decorative wreaths through the business that she makes from her Hansville home.It took seven years for his first crop to mature, but by 1987 he was in business, and quickly developed a strong word-of-mouth reputation among the half-dozen tree growers on the island. In recent years, he’s been able to sell about 1,000 trees each of the popular Grand and Noble fir varieties – about 35 percent of his total crop.As he’s gotten older, however, the kids moved away and Gregg has had to hire help for the planting, fertilizing, shearing and mowing that is the drudgery part of the growing process. “It’s work that’s not always that intensive but it’s continual,” Gregg said. “I would still have to be out there every day.”He admitted he’ll miss the interaction with his new and longtime customers.“I only see them once a year for 20 minutes, but those 20 minutes are great,” he said. “I like to see the kids, see the older people, get caught up on the news you don’t get in the newspaper.“It’s a real community thing.”"

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