83-year-old tree farmer calling it quits

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, October 30, 2012



Oliver Williams got into the Christmas tree business by happenstance.

He inherited property near Straughn – known to locals as Greenleaf Christmas Tree Farm – from his parents about 30 years ago. His family had farmed the land for decades, as his grandfather first homesteaded it at age 15.

“I had not retired, so I knew I couldn’t grow cotton, corn and peanuts like my daddy had been doing,” he said.

It was a phone call from the Coffee County Extension agent that set his destiny. The county agent had ordered 200 Christmas trees for someone who changed his mind. He offered them to Williams, who accepted.

“One hundred-and-sixty-three of them lived,” he said. “The first year I opened, I sold 162 and had one stolen.”

That was about 25 years ago. Through the years, he’s replanted Leyland Cypress trees every year. It takes about five years for a tree to grow to “magazine” size, he said.

Through the years, he’s enjoyed the families – and especially the children – who’ve come to Greenleaf. But at 83, he’s decided it’s time to sell. He said he made the decision about four months ago after a hard day’s farming. It’s just time.

Four years ago, he set an extension ladder in a pecan tree and climbed it to shake the pecans out. He fell.

“Not a scratch on me,” he said, adding that he knows it was a bad decision to climb the ladders. “I was just in that good of shape,” he said.

But four years can make a difference, and while still active, he doesn’t have the stamina to keep of 45 acres of Christmas trees, pear trees, fig trees and blackberry vines.

“I’ve met a lot of good people through the years,” he said Monday. “I’ve really looked forward to seeing them walk through the farm each year.”

While he has a buyer, the deal won’t be closed until some time in November, and he’s not sure if the tree farm will be open this holiday season. He wanted to let the customers who’ve become his friends, know.

“I’ve had a good time,” he said.