So which US state do you think grows the most Christmas trees? That would be Oregon. But the red-ribbon winner might surprise you — my home state of North Carolina. Oregon harvests 7.5 million trees to our 5.5 million. Santa told me that while Oregon outsells North Carolina, we get a much higher return on investment, making us the top Christmas tree earner. I have yet to verify this, but Santa doesn’t lie, right?
You may wonder why Santa cares. Because his day job is with the NC state agriculture department. He was hanging out last weekend at Pop-n-Son Christmas Trees in Garner, NC, one of the 30 Christmas tree farms I visited this month while compiling research for my book “Farm Fresh North Carolina.”
Here’s what else I learned. A good 90 to 95 percent of all NC trees sold are Fraser firs. They’re shipped all over the country, including to the White House on many years, including this one. Apparently many Americans consider frasers to be the authentic Christmas tree. I beg to differ. I’m a fan of the lacey and softer Eastern red cedar. That’s because when I was growing up in these parts, my parents and I would tromp through the woods behind our house and cut one down at nature’s very own “choose-and-cut” farm. Getting permission from Mrs. Layton up the street was essential too, as it was her land. Now, some 35 years later, the woods and Mrs. Layton are gone, but, as they say, the memories linger.
Frasers need about 2,500 feet of altitude to grow, so all the fraser farms are in the western NC mountains, while the cedars, pines, and other species are grown in other parts of the state. The mountains are home to about 200 (!) choose-and-cut farms, where customers pick their still-planted tree and the farm cuts it down for them. (Hundreds more fraser farms are wholesale only.) Many farms nowadays use a “shaker,” a vibrating contraption to shake the dead needles out and a “baler” to wrap up the tree in mesh for easy car carrying. What ever did we do back in the old days?
I visited 30 choose-and-cut farms, and didn’t even buy a tree. But I did take a lot of notes, get lost on mountain roads, and drink a lot of really bad instant apple cider. (Farmers, consider springing for the real stuff.) From late November through mid-December, about every other car in the mountains has a Christmas tree on the roof and a load of kids inside, dreaming of what Santa will bring. It’s a sweet sight.