Bangor Daily News
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CORNVILLE, Maine — Matthew Quinn walked through the rows of Christmas trees dusted in white from Maine’s first snowfall last week, the cold wind nipping at his cheeks. He cut one down and pulled it through the baler while explaining how the tree wrapped in red netting will end up in a family’s living room, adorned with twinkling lights and ornaments.
Quinn’s thousands of trees are marked with tags depending on their quality. His grading scale is like the fair: blue for best-in-show, which are full and gorgeous; red for next best; and white for cull trees — or what he calls the Charlie Browns.
“Some people like Charlie Brown trees,” he said. “It’s about the memories, the experience, the whole thing. There’s a tree for every home and a home for every tree.”
Quinn, 43, is reviving his family’s connection with Christmas trees — a tradition dating back to the 1960s — and growing a business that brings people happiness.
Quinn, who began nurturing Christmas trees as a respite from his demanding job as a firefighter and paramedic in 2018, won Main Street Skowhegan’s first business pitch competition earlier this month. The $5,000 prize brought a boost to his business, which gained a used wreath-making machine and mechanical tree shaker just in time for choose-and-cut opening day Friday, Nov. 25. The pitch contest is part of a local group’s efforts to strengthen the Somerset County economy.
Quinn and his wife, Christine, are business partners at Cornville Christmas Tree Company LLC, which operates Quinn’s Tree Farm at 290 West Ridge Road. They manage 25 acres, nine of which they own, in the rural Somerset County town.
Quinn’s idea seemed like an unlikely one to take the crown compared with others who pitched coffee shops in Skowhegan, a food truck and a digital marketing agency, which align more with the town’s plans for the Skowhegan River Park and redeveloped Kennebec River corridor.
But despite Main Street Skowhegan’s name, the business lab and pitch competition was designed to support local entrepreneurs and longtime businesses that could also spur new development not limited to the downtown. The group is planning two more labs, one in the spring and another in the fall, for next year, said Patric Moore, Main Street Skowhegan’s business manager.
At left: Matthew Quinn and Chris Clarke prepare to start the tree baler, which will wrap freshly cut Christmas trees in netting for easier shipment and storage; at right: Christmas trees dusted in white after Maine’s first snowfall last week at Quinn’s Tree Farm in Cornville. Credit: Valerie Royzman / BDN
“Matt knows what his business is all about, what he’s trying to sell, how he wants to move forward,” he said. “What was key was his drive to make not just the Skowhegan region but Somerset County more popular, especially when it comes to agrotourism.”
Quinn’s family ties go back to the 1960s, when his father, Jeffrey Quinn, had a high school job shearing Christmas trees for Carleton Hodges, who owned more than 100 acres of fields in Cornville. Shearing is necessary to sculpt and maintain the classic Christmas tree shape.
Eventually Jeffrey Quinn grew and sold his own trees, setting aside money for his children to attend college.
The operation was smaller than Carleton’s tree farm and those of future land owners, but it provided some income for the family over the years, Matthew Quinn said. It also amplified a love for horticulture and the holidays, even as they moved on to other endeavors, such as running the Lakewood Theater in Madison.
When Quinn and his father bought a tractor in 2018, he took over the three acres that his father and later other farmers managed, culling old trees and nurturing new ones. He sold 60 choose-and-cut trees out of his father’s driveway in 2019, then 120 trees in 2020.
Each year, Quinn and his team have planted more seedlings. Last year, he bought and cleaned up the West Ridge Road property where his business is now based. It was formerly a Christmas tree farm known as The Forest, and decades before that, the land belonged to Hodges.
Running a tree farm is strenuous work that requires patience and planning throughout the year, Quinn said. Revenue is made in four weeks, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, then farmers acquire and plant seedlings, mow around them and tend to the fields, plus other preparations ahead of the next holiday season.
“But Christmas trees are real in this artificial world,” he wrote in a recent Facebook post.
The Quinns sold 1,100 wholesale trees this year, being delivered to places such as Winslow and Standish, though last year some traveled outside of Maine. He hopes to sell from 250 to 500 choose-and-cut trees and experiment with a retail lot at SKOW-Whoville — a series of Grinch-themed and holiday events in Skowhegan — in early December.
In the coming years, Quinn, who has about 6,000 trees across various fields, wants to increase his stock to between 25,000 and 50,000, which would equate to a mid-sized business, he said. He plans to move the gift shop — open this year, in the building used for wreath-making and storage — to a separate space.
The new-to-him wreath-making machine will reduce production costs and save time, while the tree shaker removes excess needles and other unwanted materials such as leaves and dead twigs that people don’t want in their houses.
Quinn also wants to grow an orchard for harvesting tree tips, which are used in wreaths and sold to places like garden centers. When the tips are snapped off, the tree regenerates in three years; it’s a renewable resource with little investment, he said.
Quinn still works for the Skowhegan Fire Department, but the tree business is how he will support his family. He likes that it allows him to be in charge of his own destiny.
“It’s just wonderful. It smells good, and it’s quiet and pretty,” he said. “And to be able to share that with people — I never would have thought that it would make me feel so good.”
Maine Christmas tree farm with a special family story gets boost from local pitch contest – Bangor Daily News
Bangor Daily News