From Christmas Trees To Trucking, Family Business Thrives With Assist From Farm Credit Partnerships

To best understand the phenomenal growth of Bottomley Evergreens and Farms, now the largest supplier of Christmas greenery in the eastern United States, you need to step back in time. To 1980, in fact, when Mitchell Bottomley was just eight years old.

Back then, he and his grandpa, Bunk Roten, would spend hours in the basement tying evergreen garlands to earn a little extra holiday money. When his grandpa passed away a decade later, Mitchell reached back into those fond childhood memories and emerged with a booming business idea. He combined efforts with his father, William Blan Bottomley, a respected cabbage grower, and together, the two started what would become a highly successful, well diversified business operation.

This past year, the North Carolina-based company planted 1.3 million Christmas trees, each of which will take about eight years to grow to full maturity (six feet to eight feet in height), at which point they’ll be ready to harvest. All tree planting and labor is done by hand because of the steep hills the trees are planted on and the difficulty of bringing equipment onto those hills.

In addition to shipping Christmas trees across America, Bottomley grows and transports green beans, sweet corn, broccoli, and other vegetables nationwide. The family takes great pride in the natural grass-fed and grass-finished Angus beef they produce. Pumpkins, too, are a significant part of the operation.

When there’s a financing need for a client that we cannot fulfill directly, we feel most comfortable staying within the Farm Credit system and bringing in CoBank FCL as a valued partner to complete the transaction

Due to the terrain where they’re located, many of the fields they farm on across more than 25,000 acres are small compared to crop operations in the South or Midwest, which makes their farming even more challenging. Bottomley also operates a trucking division that uses their refrigerated and dry van trucks to pick up vegetables from growers out west, for instance, drop off those shipments to retailers, and bring back vegetables to the East Coast as well.

Martha Bottomley, whose husband passed away in 2015, is proud of the way her son Mitchell has guided the business to a new level while keeping everything in the family. Unless it’s raining or snowing, Mitchell shies away from office work, preferring instead to direct daily operations while running equipment out in the fields. Martha’s youngest son, Kelly, known locally as the ‘whiz kid of all things pumpkin,’ grows high-quality autumn crop. And although middle son Tracy was raised in a farming family, he is following his passion for sales and marketing, informed by his deep knowledge of the produce and greenery industries.

Mitchell Bottomley
Mitchell Bottomley

“It’s rewarding when your entire family is pulling together for a common goal,” Martha says. “There’s no big secret to our success over the years, just determination, perseverance and blood, sweat and tears. We’re just hard workers; I’ve found that’s exactly what it takes to succeed in business and in life.”

Financing That Feels Like Family

A close working relationship with Carolina Farm Credit, their longtime financing partner, has been critical to Bottomley’s steady business growth over the years, Martha points out. Part of the national Farm Credit System, Carolina FC helps North Carolina farmers and rural residents qualify for loans and leases for their farms, homes, agribusinesses and more.

“We’ve been with Carolina Farm Credit from the beginning, going back some 45 years,” Martha says. “In that time, they’ve always been like family. What I mean by that is… you’re not just a number to them. They’re smart when it comes to agriculture, they have the local know how and they treat you like real people. They’re there for you through good times and in challenging times, too.”

Tracy Bottomley, Mitchell Bottomley, Deanna Bottomley, Martha Bottomley, James Taylor and Jeremy Lee
Tracy Bottomley, Mitchell Bottomley, Deanna Bottomley, Martha Bottomley, James Taylor and Jeremy Lee

Jeremy Lee, leasing manager for Carolina FC, serves as account representative and has gotten to know Martha and her team quite well. He continues to be “amazed” by the family aspect of the business -- how heavily involved Martha stays in day-to-day operations, with her three sons and Mitchell’s wife, Deanna, playing important roles as well.

“In talking to them regularly, I’m convinced that on any given day, any one of them could go outside with a chainsaw and cut down a tree, or go and manage the pumpkin, corn, or broccoli operations if needed,” Lee said. “This business excels because it’s simply the best coordinated family business I’ve ever seen.”

Enter CoBank Farm Credit Leasing

In early 2021, Carolina FC saw the need to acquire additional financing for the Bottomleys’ expanding truck operation and for new facilities that included a cold storage warehouse for Christmas trees. The association turned to CoBank Farm Credit Leasing, a partner within the Farm Credit System, to finalize a lease arrangement that made the best financial and business sense for all involved.

The many advantages of financing with CoBank FCL include flexible terms, low competitive rates, a high level of service and a process that helps ease documentation for the co-op, said James Taylor, senior relationship manager for Carolina FC.

Jeremy Lee, Kelly Bottomley, Kellen Bottomley
Jeremy Lee, Kelly Bottomley, Kellen Bottomley

“When there’s a financing need for a client that we cannot fulfill directly, we feel most comfortable staying within the Farm Credit system and bringing in CoBank FCL as a valued partner to complete the transaction,” Taylor said. “Time and again, as was most recently the case for the Bottomleys, CoBank’s help is a win for everyone involved.”

CoBank Farm Credit Leasing offers a range of flexible equipment financing options for vehicles, equipment and facilities that can deliver significant benefits to rural and utility businesses.

Contact your relationship manager today to learn how we can help in the financing of a wide variety of the assets needed to run your business effectively.