By Viviana Bonilla Lopez
Published December 1, 2010
This Christmas morning, Vice President Joe Biden and billionaire Donald Trump will be opening presents under a North Carolina-grown Christmas tree.
North Carolina ranks second in the nation for Christmas tree production with approximately 5 million trees harvested every year from more than 15,000 growers, said Jennifer Greene, executive director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association.
The N.C. Fraser fir Christmas tree has been chosen to be the official White House tree 11 times. This is more than any other species, she said.
In North Carolina, the trees are equally coveted, farmers say.
“Christmas tree selling has been growing steadily for the past 30 years,” said Paul Smith, president of Cool Springs Nursery and UNC alumnus.
Smith’s trees are sold internationally, with recent customers including Trump.
In 2009, sales in North Carolina reached $100 million, Greene said.
She said consumers might downsize because of the economy, but they should not stop purchasing.
But trees help more than the economy — growers say they are also eco-friendly.
“For every tree cut, two to three seedlings are replanted in its place,” Greene said.
Christmas tree farms help prevent urbanization in the N.C. mountains and provide habitats for animals such as deer and rabbits, Smith said.
One acre of Christmas trees provides enough oxygen for 18 people per day, and each tree is recyclable, said Joe Freeman, National Grand Champion Tree Grower and provider of the official White House tree in 2007.
Freeman was this year’s Reserved Grand Champion, which means his tree will go to the vice president’s residence.
“As a grower, we donate the tree to the nation,” Freeman said. “It’s a very big honor.”
This year, Freeman’s farm, Mistletoe Meadows in Ashe County, also provided trees for many Washington, D.C. monuments and White House rooms.
Earl Deal, National Grand Champion Tree Grower and provider of the official White House tree in 2005, went to Washington, D.C, for the official tree-acceptance ceremony and decorated the tree himself. He said he enjoyed the experience but missed being at the farm during peak harvest.
“That was a once in a lifetime kind of thing. I’m not sure I can stand it again. But it was a great experience,” Deal said.
Deal’s family-owned farm, Smokey Holler Tree Farm in Alleghany County, provided the trees for the Oval Office, the Blue Room and the private residence of the White House that year as well as eight trees for various White House locations this year.
Christmas tree sales from farms like Deal’s and Freeman’s are not only boosting the state and local economies but also helping the community.
One local seller is using Christmas tree sales for fundraising.
“For us it represents families coming together to pick up a Christmas tree,” said Terry Howes, financial chairman of Chapel Hill’s Amity United Methodist Church Christmas Tree Fund. “It’s fellowship.”
Half of the proceeds go to charitable funds and half go to the church building, Chairman of Amity’s Christmas Tree Fund Lindy Sparrow said.
“Everybody loves Christmas. And everybody loves Christmas trees,” Smith said.