Stockbroker returns home at Christmas to help Mum

Wharfedale Observer: Tom Foster on the farm in Menston Tom Foster on the farm in Menston

Every Christmas financier Tom Foster swaps trading shares for a totally different commodity He leaves his post with a wealth management firm in London to join his mother Jenny on the family farm near Burley–in–Wharfedale, selling Christmas trees.

The stockbroker gets into the festive spirit to greet people as they turn up to buy what for many is the most important purchase of the season.

Before working in London, Tom studied agriculture then joined his father Peter on the cattle farm, but could not see a future for himself in the industry.

“Farming was in the doldrums and then foot and mouth came, which changed everything,” said Tom.

He started the business with Jenny to raise cash for a trip he was planning to Africa. “We sold the last remaining tree on Christmas Eve. It worked quite well and seemed like a good challenge so we decided to keep it going,” he says.

Since then, the business has thrived and is an annual fixture at Brookleigh Farm, run alongside Peter’s 200–head beef herd.

“We have both put a lot of hard work into this over the years,” adds Tom, “It is something we really enjoy, almost like a tradition. We have our regular customers who come every year and it’s great to catch up with them. It’s a festive occasion when all the family come as a group to pick their tree.”

Jenny looks forward to it every year. “Christmas can be stressful and expensive, but people look upon getting the tree as a happy occasion – families come on a weekend or after school, they come not only for the tree but for the experience. Mums and dads come with children and often with grandparents, aunts and uncles too.

“When they arrive they smell that Christmas smell and see the fairy lights we have hung up to make it look pretty. The children are excited and they see other animals on the farm, like cows, ponies, cats and dogs.”

Jenny and Tom sell a range of trees, from Nordman fir, to blue noble, Norway Spruce and Fraser fir, sourced from suppliers across Yorkshire. A small number are grown on the farm.

“All our trees are grown locally,” says Tom. “We travel around the county in summer carefully selecting them.”

Adds Jenny: “We buy only top quality,” says Jenny, “We meet the growers and make sure that they are cut down only the day before they are delivered so they stay fresh. Many trees bought from wholesalers will have been cut up to five weeks beforehand and die more quickly. You can tell trees are fresh from the wonderful smell.”

The pair kick off their festive enterprise at Burley–in–Wharfedale Christmas market. “The lights are turned on and there are lots of stands, one being us,” says Jenny, “It is a great atmosphere.”

From neat, three–foot tall trees to towering 18–footers, Jenny and Tom have something for everyone. A Christmas tree may grace your living room for only a month or so, but choosing one calls for a lot of thought. “The tree is a focal point – the main decoration of Christmas – and people look for perfection,” says Jenny, “There are so many to choose from, they cannot make up their minds. People may come along with a friend or sibling and one will like one tree and the other will like another. They have a look, then a second, then another – but often end up buying the first one they liked.”

She adds: “People know where they are going to put their tree and it has to fit that space.”

Their best selling tree is the Nordman – which is also the top seller across the UK – but the Fraser is catching up. “These are slimmer, but more dense, ideal for modern houses,” says Tom.

Jenny’s passion for the business shines through as she describes the different trees and their aromas: “Blue noble is a very sophisticated–looking, bluey green tree with a rich pine smell, Nordman doesn’t smell as strongly but is very pretty and a popular shape, and the Fraser is a very attractive tree with a lovely citrus smell.”

She adds: “They are all non–drop, so they don’t shed their needles.”

Mother and son work well together. “We take on different responsibilities in the business but we always make joint decisions.”

He praises the seasonal workers who help out. “We couldn’t do without them.

“It is a labour intensive job so we rely on others to lend a hand. My dad and my wife Sarah help out when we are busy.”

A trimming service is provided and bases in which to stand the trees are sold. Afterwards Christmas trees can be collected to be put to use in an environmentally and wildlife–friendly way.

“We take them to the moors where they are used for cover for pheasants,” adds Jenny.

  • Brookleigh Farm is on Burley Road, Menston. Visit qualitychristmastrees.co.uk or call (01943) 864116 or 07961 087080.

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