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Ray Gilbert stands in front of one of the Christmas trees located at Gilbert's Tree Farm in Lanett. The farm is now in its 30th year of operation, after humble beginnings in 1988. - Chris Heaney

Local Christmas tree farm in 30th year

LANETT — When he planted his first trees in December of 1983, Ray Gilbert expected Gilbert Christmas Tree Farm to be a small side project. Since selling that first crop during the holiday season of 1988, the farm is now in its 30th year of operation and has become the premier place to buy fresh Christmas trees for those not only in the Greater Valley Area, but in Auburn, Opelika, Roanoke, LaGrange and Columbus as well.

Gilbert said that the idea to start raising trees came from the local extension office.

“They were telling people that had vacant land ‘plant some Christmas trees, that’s a good way to make some money,” he said. 

Joining approximately 20 other like-minded farms scattered throughout Lee, Chambers and Russell counties, Gilbert planted Virginia Pines along his 84 acres of spare land.

After adding Leyland Cypress trees in the late 90s, which now make up approximately 80 percent of their total tree sales, and then Fraser Fir trees brought in from North Carolina in 2007, Gilbert Christmas Tree Farm is the only remaining organization from the initial group of farmers known as the East Alabama Christmas Tree Association.

This season, after pulling off of County Road 296 and driving through gravel-covered dirt roads, expectant patrons are met with Gilbert Farm’s small, 2012-added gift shop that sits just in front of the now 227-acre sea of green.

The Christmas trees, ranging in size, shape and species, stretch out as far as the eye can see with each one that’s old enough for sale trimmed and tagged for easy retrieval.

Gilbert said that the business is run by he and his wife, Joan, with help from their daughter, son, in-laws and grandson, Ty.

“This is really a family operation,” Gilbert said. “It would not be successful if it wasn’t for my daughter and her husband, my son and his wife, their son and my wife. They all help out.”

The Gilberts are also members of the Southern Christmas Tree Association and the Georgia Christmas Tree Association, the former of which Ray Gilbert acted as president of in 2008 and again in 2016.

In their 30 years of operation, he said, the associations have given them ideas and innovations that have kept them such an important part of the Greater Valley Area.

Now instead of buying a tree and going straight home for trimming and decoration, folks can stay for tractor rides around the farm, photo-ops with an assortment of cutouts and shopping in the gift shop.

“We have decorations that you can’t find at Walmart,” Gilbert said. “We don’t try to compete with the box stores, we like to have unique stuff.”

Gilbert Christmas Tree Farm is located at 1230 County Road 296 in Lanett and is open Thursday through Sunday until Dec. 16.