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This Economic Recovery Smells Like Pine

Nick de la Canal
Workers prepare Christmas trees for shipping

This year is shaping up to be a good one for America’s Christmas tree farmers. A report published this week by the American Christmas Tree Association estimates nearly 22.6 million Christmas trees will be bought, strapped to a car roof, brought home, and decorated this holiday season. That’s a million more trees than were sold in 2011, and it’s welcome relief for the Christmas tree industry, which is still recovering from the recession.

It’s also good news for North Carolina, which produces just under 5 million Christmas trees each year and is second in nation in Christmas tree production. Watch your back, Oregon.

As the harvest season comes to an end this week, farmhands in Sands, a small town on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, are loading up tractor trailers with the last few loads of Christmas tree cargo. Joey Clawson of G&S trees says the last few years were rough, “but now the economy’s turned around and it’s pretty steady. Nothing fabulous, but it’s steady.”

It takes eight years for a seedling to grow into a seven-foot Christmas tree. And it was eight years ago that the economy tanked and consumers cut back on spending. That meant farmers were stuck with a backlog of trees and had less room to plant new ones. Now, eight years later, the economy is rebounding, but farmers have a smaller crop to harvest. There’s enough to meet demand this year, but “you can expect a shortage of good Christmas trees the next several years,” Clawson says.

The impressive sales numbers, mixed with the mild winter, has meant an early Christmas for farmers and their farmhands, many of them migrant workers from Mexico.

After the trees are cut and loaded for shipping, workers pack up their bags and load buses with clothes, snacks, and big-screen TVs they bought on Black Friday to bring home to their families. 

After seven months on the farm, one worker, Raymundo Flores, is especially excited to go home to Vera Cruz, Mexico, and see his kids.

As he waits in line to board the charter bus, Flores says he couldn’t sleep last night thinking about climbing onto the bus today and calling his family to say he’s on the way home. He’s bringing only three pieces of luggage with him: a suitcase with his belongings, a suitcase full of gifts, and a 4-foot fraser fir he cut specially for his family’s Christmas.