Astoria Family Farm Spreads the Scents of the Season

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photo by Joni Kabana

When Liz Jolley would drive home from college for Thanksgiving break, her nose told her when she was close. “I could smell the evergreens just by turning onto Fern Hill Road,” Jolley said. Jolley’s childhood home sits on Fernhill Holly Farms, the holly farm that her grandparents started in 1955 on six acres in Astoria. Over the past sixty years, her family has fashioned seasonal decorations from holly and evergreens that are sold nationwide.

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photo by Joni Kabana

H.C. Timmerman, Jolley’s grandfather, moved to Astoria as a fisherman with plans to open a cannery. A clump of Old English holly trees near his house gave him different ideas. “He had an entrepreneurial mind and was a jack-of-all-trades,” Jolley said. Through trial and error, Timmerman learned to prune the trees and root the cuttings. His wife, Norene, enlisted locals to create their first merchandise. “The neighbor ladies would help pack the cut holly and make the wreaths,” Jolley said. Their first shipment was 250 pounds for a Salt Lake City florist. In the following years, positive word of mouth facilitated more contracts. Distribution reached the East Coast, where it continues today via wholesale florists and major grocery chains.

In 1979, Jolley’s mother and uncle bought the farm and expanded operations, adding holly acreage and the more fragrant evergreen products. They enlisted bough cutters in Oregon and Washington to snip branches from select Northwest trees, such as Noble fir, berried Juniper and western red cedar. This increased their offerings to include garlands, mantlepieces, centerpieces and boxed evergreens. The second generation kept up their parents’ tradition of staying hands-on in the business. “As a kid, I always knew if my mom had spent a lot of time in the wreath room because she smelled like the Noble fir,” Jolley said. The third generation, Jolley and her brother, Greg Allen, joined the farm’s management in the mid-2000s.

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photo by Joni Kabana

Today, Fernhill sells 3.5 million pounds of holly and evergreens annually. The company’s reputation hinges on the attention to detail that’s been sustained over the years. Upon harvest, the greens are dipped in an all-natural liquid to curtail needle drop, retain moisture, and prevent mold growth. In storage, specially designed racks allow for better cooling and aeration. The 300,000 wreaths sold every season are still tied by hand. Much of the holly is cut from the original ninety-year-old trees, which have long benefitted from the coastal Oregon location. “Holly only grows in certain climates and needs the moist air,” Jolley said.

These days, Jolley thinks about Thanksgiving differently. The farm’s season runs from October to December, with the end of November governed by the rush to fill holiday orders. “We’re pretty bah humbug about Thanksgiving,” Jolley said with a laugh. By Christmas, however, the pace has waned, and it’s time to celebrate and, of course, decorate. Surplus product is donated to local food banks, shelters and churches, while Jolley bedecks her grandparents’ old house, where she now lives. She begins with a custom “Joyful Tidings” wreath, composed of her all-time favorites: Noble fir and holly. “It’s amazing how incredible it smells at Christmas,” Jolley said.

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photo by Joni Kabana

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