After 40 Years of Tree Farming, the Sipes Still Lovingly Work the Land

 

When Joe Sipe moved to Clarke County in 1952, he was a young fiddle-playing man, often making music at the Palace Theatre in Winchester. He was so good in fact that visiting country music legends Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe invited him to join them in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry.

Joe chased the dream to Tennessee but before long returned to Clarke County to help nurse his ailing father.

Back home, he grew to love the land. By 1976, he had married Denise, bought a large parcel of land in White Post, and began planting thousands of white pine saplings in the rolling fields off Berrys Ferry Road.

In 1983, the couple sold their first harvest at Sipe Christmas Tree Farm. Since then, the sprawling homestead has become a local favorite in December. (Loyal patrons on Facebook: “Love this place. Tradition for our family.” … “We’re on the way right now to get our tree for the 28th year. Wouldn’t be Christmas without it.”)

In August, though, the small white building that serves as the holiday sales shop looks lonely. Before long, it’ll bustle with activity, Joe promises, his eyes sparkling as he talks about the jams and jellies and other holiday treats the Sipes sell along with the trees. This year, it took two months just to groom the trees for selling, even with help, Joe explains, because the trees were “growing like crazy.”

But time takes its toll.

Today, at 88, Joe is in the process of selling his last 13 cattle, leaving that business behind. “I think it’s time to slow down a little,” he says. “I’m tired of fighting the cold winter weather.”

For years, part of the Sipes’ plan has been to protect their open space. Since 2007, all their property — two parcels of 143 and 44 acres each – has been preserved by conservation easement.

“I tell everybody to put their land in easement,” Joe says. “This place is beautiful. You can go anywhere and see mountains all around.  We’re in a little saucer, and all our neighbors are good people. I don’t want it destroyed when I’m gone.”

Indeed, the Sipes felt the tug of developers offering them large sums of money for the land, but they stubbornly resisted. With the easement, “It’ll be taken care of when I leave this world,” explains Joe. “And it will benefit all of us.”

With their active tree farm, the Sipes also convincingly dispel the myth that landowners with property in easement give up all their rights to how they use their land to make a living.

Joe still drives the tractor around the farm, doing chores from sun up to sun down, and swears by a glass of cranberry juice every day – “it keeps me going,” he laughs as he points to a stockpile of juice jugs.

When he does take a break, he and Denise enjoy sightseeing rides through the countryside with an occasional stop at Cracker Barrel.

“Yes, I work all the time. But I enjoy work,” he says, and then adds with a smile, “I’ll go as long as the good Lord lets me. Have you ever seen anyone mow with a cane?”