Old McDonald Had a Christmas Tree Farm

With Christmas less than two weeks away, it’s go time for tree farmers throughout the country. It is my assumption that when you hear the word “farm,” the first thing to come to mind is not a Christmas tree. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are close to 15,000 farms in the United States that work to grow this beloved holiday decoration. More often than not, Christmas trees are grown in soil types that aren’t suitable for growing food–typically in fields, not forests–as a renewable, recyclable resource.

Growing these trees takes more patience and hard work than one would think. For every tree harvested this year, three seedlings are planted the following spring. Once the seedlings are planted they take an average growing period of 7 years to reach 6 to 7 feet tall. During those 7 years, the same trees require lots of maintenance–from shaping and shearing to weeding and mowing, as well as protection against insects and other wildlife. 

Hunter Bros. Tree Farm planted their first Christmas tree in 1984.

Similar to those who grow our food, fuel, and fiber, tree farmers occasionally struggle to make ends meet. A recent article in The New York Times warns customers that the perfect Christmas tree may be harder to come by this year, or at least about 10% more expensive than years prior. Much like the rest of the items on your holiday shopping list, Christmas trees can be purchased online. Though this trend seems to be growing in popularity, maybe the industry’s slowness to catch on–compared to other online buying habits–has more to do with family tradition. For many families, like mine, picking out the tree is the best part of the whole process.

Year after year, my family and I make the short commute to Hunter Bros. Tree Farm in Chariton, Iowa, to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. We established this holiday tradition several years ago when we lost our fake tree during a house fire. My parents thought this would not only be the perfect way to create holiday memories together, but also a chance to support a locally owned business and fellow farmer. Our visits to the tree farm often included wandering through standing trees in search of the perfect one, taking a family picture on the schoolhouse steps, browsing through the gift shop, finding a wreath to complement our front door, and enjoying a Christmas cookie or two with a cup of hot chocolate. Some years it’s snowing while other years you can get by with a light jacket. No matter the weather, the holiday spirit fills our souls as we make memories that will last a lifetime.

My sister’s and I soaking up a healthy dose of Christmas spirit
at Hunter Bros. Tree Farm.

Not only does your Christmas tree play a significant role during the holiday season, but it can also be recycled. Each year, when the ponds are still frozen over, my father makes his way onto the ice with our dried up Christmas tree in tow. Once spring arrives and the pond thaws, the old Fraser fir sinks to the bottom, providing a natural and decomposing habitat for fish. It also attracts algae, giving them something to eat. If you don’t have a pond on your property, most game and fishery departments will offer a drop-off service for trees to use in community lakes and ponds. A few additional ways to recycle your tree might be using the dried needles as mulch in your yard or chopping the remaining log for next winter’s firewood.

Our family chooses to go the farm-grown Christmas tree route because we look forward to carrying on the Christmas tradition each year, as we savor that fresh pine smell. So next year when Christmas rolls around, help support your local tree farmer by purchasing a real tree to place your presents under.

By: Kylie Peterson 

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