For more than 30 years now, the Sanderson family of Wayne County, N.C. has built a loyal following for the fresh wreaths and garland they make from the evergreen trees and cotton they grow on their family farm.
Kenneth and Vickey Sanderson, third generation farmers in Wayne County, got into the wreath business as a sideline to their Christmas tree business. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Christmas trees were an important part of the family’s farming operation, but after about 10 years, they got out of the Christmas tree farming and focused instead on custom-made wreaths.
“We don’t grow Christmas trees anymore, but we still have some of those original trees that we get cuttings from for our wreaths,” Kenneth says. “We get most of the cuttings from our own trees, except for the Frasier Firs, which come from the mountains. Frasiers don’t grow well in this part of North Carolina. There has been a lot of research on growing Frasiers here, but still no promising results.”
The Sandersons do grow Red Cedar, Virginia Pine, White Pine, Blue Ice, Boxwood, Magnolia and Eucalyptus on their farm for the wreaths they sell at the Raleigh Farmers Market from Thanksgiving to Christmas. “Those trees do fine here,” Kenneth says.
For the Sandersons, the fresh wreath business is seasonal and provides them a source of income after the busy fall harvest. In addition to the wreath business, the family grows cotton, corn, tobacco, wheat and muscadine grapes.
“It’s a business we can do that would normally be down time,” Kenneth says. “We’ve been selling our wreaths at the Raleigh farmers’ market which keeps us busy from Thanksgiving to Christmas.”
Five years ago, Kenneth came up with the idea to sell handmade cotton burr wreaths from the cotton he grows. Since then the business has really taken off, with daughter Kari Sanderson Hobbs running the business with her brother Josh, who also manages the fresh wreath business and the Sanderson Wreaths website.
“We sell our cotton burr wreaths on Etsy, a website for homemade goods,” Kari says. “Daddy and my brother Matt grow the cotton, and we make small bundles of the cotton after harvest and put it on metal rings to make the wreaths.”
The wreaths are decorated with colorful bows designed and created by Kari. Each wreath is handmade, and Kari says the wreaths with more cotton bolls are the most popular. “It’s a lot of work, but they are fun to make,” she says.
“We use our website, Facebook and Etsy to market our wreaths. We’ve sold wreaths to people in London, Texas, Michigan, Florida, Alaska, Georgia, New York, Ohio, Connecticut, Virginia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania” she adds.
Vickey Sanderson points out that their customers at the Raleigh Farmers Market liked to buy bundles of cotton in addition to the fresh wreaths the family sold, so the cotton burr wreaths seemed liked a natural fit. “Our customers in Raleigh had a keen interest in farm products. A lot of them have never seen cotton plants before. We would sell cotton bolls and they were really interested in the cotton bolls,” she says. “The wreaths seemed like a perfect fit.”
While the fresh wreaths are a seasonal business, the cotton burr wreaths are sold year round. “We make them up ahead of time and store them until an order comes in,” Kenneth explains. “The nice thing about the cotton wreaths is that they are dry. As long as you keep them out of the weather, they will stay dry and in good condition.
Both the Sanderson’s farming operation and wreath business are family-run through and through. Son Matt farms with Kenneth while Josh and Kari run the wreath business. Kari has a twin sister, Nicki, who is an attorney in Smithfield, N.C.
In addition to running the wreath business, Kari teaches Earth Science at Southern Wayne High School. If that’s not enough to keep her busy, she is working on a doctorate degree in education at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. Last year was certainly a full year for the Sandersons, with Kari getting married in July.
In addition to running the wreath business and managing the website, brother Josh teaches Spanish at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, N.C.
After making their wreaths in a 75-year-old house with no insulation and just two rooms, the Sandersons completed a new building this year that is insulated and offers plenty of room to make and store both the fresh wreaths and cotton burr wreaths.
“We plan to be in the wreath business for the long haul and are hoping to keep the business growing,” Kenneth says.