When Susie Grant went to the National Christmas Tree Association convention in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1986, she was one of the few female farmers there. She ran a small farm in Mississippi at the time. In the exhibit hall, she met a father and son from Stockbridge, who were demonstrating a revolutionary tree trimmer they had invented. “I just walked by and started talking about the trimmer,” says Susie. She and the son, Allen Grant, have been together ever since. Today they own Yule Forest in Stockbridge, and Christmas trees remain an inextricable part of their lives.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, Atlantans flock to Yule Forest for a choose-and-cut experience. A variety of locally grown trees awaits, including Green Giants, Virginia pines, Carolina Sapphires, and Blue Ice Cypresses, while Fraser and noble firs are brought in from cooler climates. Of their homegrown trees, the Leyland Cypress is the most popular. “It’s a fast grower for us, and it’s a real full tree and doesn’t shed its needles,” says Allen. It’s also a good alternative to strongly aromatic pine trees, since the scent is more subtle.
What’s it like running a farm together? “Do you really want to know?” Susie laughs. “We both have separate things we do. He does most of the labor, I do most of the marketing.” Today it’s still a family affair, as their daughter Arrah Thomas helps with marketing and events.
Like many farms, Yule Forest has evolved over the years. The Grants discovered early on that it’s not enough to grow Christmas trees. In the early ’90s, Allen figured out how to grow pumpkins (a finicky gourd), and they opened a pumpkin patch. They also offer a robust slate of agri-tainment activities, including a tulip festival in the spring. “We really do a lot of things on this little 20 acres,” says Susie.
But Christmas will always be at the heart of their operation. Despite all the work, the Grants love the holiday and how it brings customers together. The couple has three children and 10 grandchildren, and even a couple of the young ones work the holiday season. “The thing we really enjoy the most and emphasize is the family experience—coming out of the hustle and bustle and slowing down,” says Allen, who wants guests to stroll through the fields and enjoy some hot apple cider. “We really encourage that. Everybody’s laughing and cutting up and enjoying the holiday.”
This article appears in our November 2023 issue.