Oregonians are lucky in that we don’t have to think about where we get our holiday trees. We are the No. 1 producer of firs, pines and spruce, beating out all other states in providing the scented, festive trees that grace many homes this season.
Perhaps in honor of that distinction, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley helped pushed a resolution claiming the first full week of December 2011 as "National Christmas Tree Week." The resolution notes that there are close to 15,000 farms growing Christmas trees in the United States and that there are roughly 100,000 people employed in the real tree industry.
The resolution also states that Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states.
Apparently, this is a common statistic repeated in Christmas tree fun facts around the country. But we had to think about it. Are there really Christmas tree farms in tropical Hawaii? What about in sunny New Mexico?
The claim kind of made sense -- where else would people living in those states get their trees? -- but we had to check.
"Well, it's one of those things I ‘know, but can't technically verify,’" said Rick Dungey of the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group for real farm-grown trees. He directed us to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which conducts a census survey of farms every five years, the most recent in 2007.
Oregon led with 6.8 million trees harvested in 2007, out of 17.4 million nationwide. Alaska, Nevada and Wyoming were at the bottom, with zero cut trees harvested. So maybe Oregon’s junior senator had his facts wrong?
We called Catherine Howard, publisher of Christmas Trees Magazine, a trade publication for growers. She said she didn’t know whether there are tree farms in all 50 states, but she suspects there may not be many -- or any -- growers in the Dakotas or in Montana.
"You never hear about them; they're just not involved," she said. "And, probably, I'm guessing Arizona and New Mexico... it's very hard to grow Christmas trees in the Southwest."
So now we’d stumbled upon new states that may lack tree farms, but nothing definite yet. We continued sleuthing.
There are several websites where you can find a place in your state to buy fresh cut trees. The National Christmas Tree Association did not list any members in Wyoming, New Mexico, North Dakota or Alaska. But of course, the sites are not comprehensive.
We plugged Alaska into the Christmas Tree Farm Network, and we found Bob Smith -- owner of Bob Smith’s Minnesota Christmas Trees in Anchorage. That’s right. Alaskans have flocked to him since 1962 to buy Balsam firs and Scotch pines from Minnesota.
Smith said he didn’t know of any tree farms in Alaska, either, but there may be a small tree farmer he’s missed. Anyway, why are Christmas trees hard to grow in Alaska? It takes a long time, he said. "The ground never gets that warm. They get a lot of daylight in the summer, but they never get that warm."
Next, we turned to the dry Southwest where we found several listings for cut holiday trees in Arizona. Mast-Roth Farms looked promising. We found the store online and learned that the family behind Mast-Roth has proudly "been bringing highest-quality Oregon Christmas Trees to the greater Phoenix area for over 30 years."
Well, so much for locally grown in Phoenix. But then again, where else are Oregon Christmas trees to go? We’re not expected to consume one third of the country’s cut holiday trees, are we?
Finally, we received a call from Alex Minchenkov, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. He confirmed that as of 2009 there were no cut Christmas tree farms in Wyoming or North Dakota. Utah was near the bottom of the list with two tree farm operations. The numbers, he acknowledged, may not include small-scale farmers.
Which brings us to our final point. Even though Merkley’s resolution highlights commercial Christmas tree farms, his statement honors the tree itself. And people in Alaska, Arizona and Nevada can always get a permit and cut their own tree from a forest.
Merkley spokesman Jamal Raad points out exactly that: "The resolution says Christmas trees are grown in all 50 states, not that there are Christmas tree farms in all 50 states, which may or may not be true."
We could downgrade Merkley for his statement, because we’re not sure there are tree farms in all 50 states, and the resolution emphsizes commercial tree farms. But that would be so Grinch-like. Instead, we rule the statement True. Christmas trees grow in all 50 states, and they bring a lot of joy to families in the United States.
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