One perfect Ashe County Fraser fir is headed to the White House
By Monte Mitchell
Published October 3, 2012 for the Winston-Salem Journal
The team from the White House moved through an Ashe County Christmas tree farm Wednesday morning looking for the perfect tree to grace the Blue Room.
"This is a nice full tree," said Dale Haney, superintendent of the White House grounds, as he started looking through stands of trees on Peak Farms, owned by Rusty Estes and his son Beau, about 8 miles east of Jefferson.
"Man, the color's good, too," said Jim Adams, supervisory horticulturist at the White House and a National Park Service employee.
"Can you smell it?" Adams asked. "That'll bring Christmas into the White House."
"Every tree looks almost perfect," Haney said.
It's highly competitive to be picked to supply the White House Christmas tree.
In August, growers across the nation picked out their best trees, cut them down and brought them to the National Christmas Tree Association's 2012 National Christmas Tree Contest in Missouri. The contest trees are about 6-to-8 feet tall. That's not nearly tall enough for the White House tree, but shows the quality of trees the grower is capable of raising.
The winner earns the right to host a visit from the White House, with a team picking a tree from the farm.
There's a lot of theatricality to it. The White House team, which had visited the farm privately on Tuesday, talked aloud about the attributes of the trees for television cameras as they walked the farm on Wednesday.
But the suspense was real. A crowd of about 100 people tagged along, and they didn't know and the Estes family didn't know which tree would be picked.
There are about 35,000 trees on this 70-acre farm.
The White House tree needed to have nice, full branches and a pleasing shape. It had to be tall enough so it could be trimmed to 18½ feet to fit beneath the Blue Room ceiling.
Having a Christmas tree picked for the White House is usually a once-in-a-career thing for a Christmas tree grower, the defining event the family looks back on all their lives.
But it's actually the second time Rusty Estes has supplied the White House tree. He and partner Jessie Davis and their River Ridge Tree Farms in Creston supplied the White House tree for President Bush in 2008.
This will be the 12th time that North Carolina has supplied the White House tree, more than any other state since the contests started in 1966.
"We have North Carolina Fraser fir and it's native to the mountains," said Jennifer Greene, executive director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association. "The needles last a long time. It has a very fragrant aroma and a dark color to the needles. That's what makes Fraser firs so special."
Rusty Estes said the publicity of having the White House tree is good for North Carolina, and particularly this part of the mountains.
"Just in Ashe County, we've had seven national winners and our state has had 12," he said. "If you were looking at statistics and you were a person looking to buy a Christmas tree in the United States, you'd say 'We better go to Ashe County.' "