LACONIA — Growing up in Bedford, Jackson, the second-eldest of five boys in the Musgrave family, was unsure of his next steps after high school. He spent the months following graduation working a series of odd jobs with a moving company, officiating youth hockey games and selling Christmas trees. Little did he know, the latter experience planted a seed that would ultimately grow into his own arboreal empire.
Though he enjoyed his time selling Christmas trees, he initially did not think much of it and later that spring decided to explore a potential career as a firefighter. He enrolled in the Fire Protection program at Lakes Region Community College. Around this same time, the Musgrave family was preparing to embark on a trip for their annual family reunion, this time hosted by relatives who resided on a Christmas tree farm. It was here that Jackson had an epiphany which would radically change his future goals and aspirations.
“A light bulb went off in my head at the family reunion,” said Jackson. “I had liked selling trees, but it was that moment that I realized, ‘Holy cow, I have a family member that is a wholesale Christmas tree farmer and grows hundreds of thousands of trees!’”
When he returned to LRCC the following semester, he had a plan in mind. LRCC didn’t have established student apartments yet. Instead, they had an agreement with a local hotel down the road from the college on Main Street, on one of the busiest intersections in the Lakes Region. The third floor of the hotel was reserved for student housing.
“I thought, hey, we could probably sell Christmas trees here — I have an idea of how to sell them and I have an uncle that grows them,’” he continued.
That entrepreneurial spirit led Jackson to meet with the hotel’s management to discuss his proposed business idea of selling trees in a corner of the hotel parking lot. Understanding the challenges of starting a new business, the two parties negotiated an agreement: the hotel wouldn’t charge him for using the space until he recouped his initial investment, after which he would pay them a percentage of all profits. With a team of fellow LRCC students, whom Jackson counts as some of his best friends to this day, he spent the holiday season selling Christmas trees and learning as he went how to refine his budding enterprise.
“We really engaged the community — people loved the idea of local students in business together,” said Jackson, “but that first year wasn’t profitable. We didn’t order the right trees for the market because Laconia is really more of a city; people would be buying a tree for an apartment and really wanted something smaller than the seven or eight-footers that I had ordered.”
Where others might have written off the experience as a fun experiment, Jackson was motivated. Though he had started off in LRCC’s Fire Protection program, he enrolled in business courses to learn more and improve his strategy for the next season. The following year he leveraged referrals from past customers, placed flyers around town and ran a Facebook advertising campaign. That second year was much more successful, and they actually sold out of inventory twice. Although their retail business was stable, Jackson wanted to go bigger and embark upon forming a wholesale operation of his own. When he began looking for land to start his own Christmas tree farm, he stumbled upon a property in the northern Maine town of Van Buren and could hardly believe what he had found.
“When I saw the price-per-acre, I thought it had to be too good to be true!” said Jackson. “When I went up to check it out, the asking price made much more sense. The trees on the land were planted in 2000 and after the recession of 2008 it had largely been abandoned and was really overgrown.
While most of the trees on the property were 20-25 feet tall, they were healthy and dropping a lot of cones, resulting in tens of thousands of saplings and growing smaller trees in between. He could see the potential and decided to purchase the land and start down his own path in the family tree business.
As the owner of MMB Trees, Jackson balances day-to-day management of his sprawling tree farm with the interstate logistics of quickly getting those trees to market. Today, MMB Trees is a wholesale, retailer, and grower of farm-fresh Christmas trees and wreaths.
“Most people start from scratch and go years before making a profit — I’m sort of doing it backwards by reclaiming the overgrown land.”
Jackson has expanded his empire, which coincidentally is helping bring him back to his roots. For the past three seasons, he has partnered with a farmer in Bedford to provide wholesale customers in New York and Massachusetts with a convenient pickup location, saving them 500 miles of transportation. In addition to the wholesale lot, Jackson acquired a long-running retail tree stand in Nashua, where he typically sells more than 800 trees each season.
Jackson’s passion and enthusiasm make it abundantly clear that he loves what he’s doing. He credits his time at LRCC as both an incubator for his budding business as well as a support system that helped him grow himself:
“I knew I had a passion for Christmas trees and wanted to continue growing the business. My professors helped me tailor my education back to the business and connect the concepts I learned in the classroom to what I was doing on the lot. LRCC not only provided me with a foundation for continuous learning and the tools to bring my dream to reality, but I also found an incredible community of professors who believed in me and friendships I maintain to this day — many of them even come up to visit and help me at harvest!”
During the holiday season and the busiest time of the year for Christmas tree sales, MMB Trees is harvesting and delivering 14,000 wholesale orders all over the East Coast from Canada to Florida. Today, MMB Trees can be found throughout the state at many retail locations including Whole Foods and are sold through local Boy Scouts troops.