After a tornado wiped out their Christmas tree farm in Gloucester County, a local family is getting ready to rebuild. Since the late ’90s, John Legge has been caring for the trees.
In his own words, “all but three mature trees that I had got blown over and laid down on the ground,” Legge recalled.
On September 1, 2021, he and his family took refuge in the basement of their Mantua Boulevard home and listened to the tornado pass overhead. He thought he heard a freight train.
Legge recounted how they had “huddled together in a tiny doorway,” before hearing the sound of shattering glass. “When I walked upstairs, I found that we actually had trees inside,” she said.
Not only did the tornado severely demolish their home, but it also severely damaged numerous other homes and businesses in its path.
“The tree farm was the least of my concerns,” Legge admitted. “Finally, now that I’m comfortable and we’ve cleared away the trees and can take a good look around, I feel like they’re all gone…” Every tree has been cut down.
According to Legge, a Christmas tree needs roughly eight to ten years to reach full size. He has spent the past year focusing on repairing his house, but this spring he will resume tree planting.
He lamented the loss of his trees but expressed gratitude that his farm was merely a hobby and not his means of support. The Legge family is selling firewood made from the debris left by the tornado while they wait for the trees to mature and be ready for sale.
Another South Jersey tree farmer does it for fun. The Glassboro farm known as Kozy Acres is owned and operated by Steven Kozachyn.
Kozachyn and his family run a weekend-only attraction where visitors may enjoy hayrides, hot chocolate, and a kind face with rosy cheeks and a white beard.
Kozachyn remarked, “[The children] look at me and they say, ‘hmm.'” Are we sure he isn’t lying?
He tells his adoring guests that he is actually Santa’s brother.
Trees by Kozachyn, toys by Kozachyn.
Trees from Kozy Acres cost $60. According to Kozachyn, that hasn’t changed in a long time and probably won’t change anytime soon.
“For us, it’s not always about the money, but about the experience,” Kozachyn added.
It’s extremely unusual because of how much the cost of fuel and fertilizer has increased due to inflation. Kozachyn, a full-time employee at Rowan University, was able to comfortably cover those costs.
It was “quite gradual” when Kozachyn completed the math, he said. This year, I just couldn’t bring myself to justify a price increase.
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The Kozachyn family sells trees on weekends from 10 am to 4 pm, and they expect to sell between 350 and 400 trees this year.
Because of the rising cost of living in the area, they are pleased to be able to offer something of more value to local families.
There’s a saying around here that goes, “We don’t sell trees, we sell family memories,” which is exactly what Kozachyn meant to imply. As one participant put it, “It’s truly a family affair and we simply do it because we have fun.”