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Oh Real Christmas Tree

Oh Real Christmas Tree
November 30, 2004 |

Families who visit Beavers
Christmas Tree Farm in Trafford,
Ala., this holiday season may not be
surprised by the thousands of lush
trees dotting the hillside or even the hot
cocoa awaiting them when they return
from the fields after making their selection.
But they may be intrigued to learn
that their homegrown holiday décor is
both safe and good for the environment.That’s because Paul and Carolyn
Beavers are not only spreading
Christmas cheer at their Jefferson
County tree farm, they also are helping
spread the word about the benefits of
real Christmas trees.”If you buy an artificial tree, it most
likely came from China,” said Paul “It’s
made from fossil fuels because plastic is
a petroleum-based product. When you
have to dispose of it, it goes into a landfill.
But real trees are a rotating crop and
can be recycled. They are biodegradable,
they prevent erosion and they absorb
carbon dioxide. I just don’t think an artificial
tree can compete with one grown
in nature.”The Beaverses’ enthusiasm about real
Christmas trees is not surprising. After
all, they not only sell between 1,000 and
1,200 trees a year at their farm, but Paul
also is president of the Alabama
Christmas Tree Association (ACTA).Unfortunately, the number of
Christmas tree farms in Alabama is on
the decline as more and more families
opt to purchase either fake trees or none
at all. According to the National
Christmas Tree Association (NCTA),
purchases of real trees have dropped dramatically
since 1990. In fact, one study
showed that, last Christmas, 73 percent
of American consumers displayed trees
that came from boxes.That’s a shame, said Carolyn, who
believes real trees not only are good for
the environment, but also help families
recapture the magic of the holiday season.”So much about Christmas now is so
commercialized. A real tree brings back
some of what many people are missing,”
she said. “Families like coming here
because it reminds them of Christmas
when they were growing up. It reminds
them of going to their grandparents’ farm
and cutting a tree. Even the smell of
wood burning in the fire barrel reminds
them of Christmas in the country.”Perhaps that’s why “choose-and-cut”
farms like the Beaverses’ have survived
when larger tree farms in places like
North Carolina are struggling. Paul
admits, however, that it has not been
easy. Alabama farmers have been forced
to adapt to the fast-paced, entertainment-
driven culture of today.No longer do tree farmers simply
hand customers a saw and collect their
money. Most also shake the trees to
remove loose needles, package them in
netting and load them in their customers’
vehicles. Some, like the
Beaverses, offer hayrides and tree flocking,
while others have petting zoos and
even arrange visits by Santa Claus.Some of the most popular items at Beavers Christmas Tree Farm are
Carolyn’s handmade wreaths, but customers
also rave about the hassle-free
tree stands Paul sells. Still, the Beaverses
have resisted adding too much glitz to
their operation, preferring instead to
offer families a wholesome, old-fashioned
experience.”Paul and I are not in this business to
make a whole lot of money,” said
Carolyn. “We don’t want the kids to have
to stand in line or pay for everything. For
the price of the tree, they can experience
everything (including free hot chocolate
all week and hayrides on the weekends).Paul, who harvested the first trees
from the 28-acre farm in 1995, said he
especially enjoys watching the kids grow
up as their families return year after
year. But the last decade hasn’t been all
smiles for the Beaverses. In that time,
they’ve also seen many of their fellow
tree growers call it quits.”When I joined the Alabama
Christmas Tree Association in 1991, we
had 95 or 96 members; now there are
fewer than 20,” said Paul, who attributes
the exodus to a number of factors.”In the 1980s, Auburn University
was really pushing tree farms, and a lot
of people got into the business,” he said.
“But it’s a lot of work, and there’s not
much money in it.”Carolyn–who had the idea of planting
trees so she and Paul could work
together in their retirement–said managing
a Christmas tree farm is a yearround
job. Mowing begins in March and
continues throughout the fall with
Carolyn spending up to five days a week
keeping the grass under control. Planting
begins in April; the trees are pruned in
the summer; and the Beaverses have to
spray the trees regularly to control pests
and ensure customers don’t take any
unwanted critters into their homes.But the rigorous schedule isn’t the
only reason for the decline in tree farms.
Competition from artificial trees as well
as huge home-improvement stores has
cut into sales. Some farmers also lost
money because the Virginia pine, which
is one of the species recommended for
Alabama’s climate, is prone to disease
and insect problems.The Beaverses still grow Virginia
pines and white pines, but like many
Alabama growers, they believe the future
of the Christmas tree industry in the
South lies with the Leyland cypress.
Unlike its pine cousins, the Leyland has
high survivability, and it makes a tall,
full tree with scores of branches that are
perfect for ornaments.”Leyland was our best seller last
year,” Carolyn said. “Once a lady cuts
that tree, they come back every year. We
took a 12-foot Leyland to the Southern
Women’s Show in Birmingham, and they
had a fit over it.”Leyland cypresses also allay two of
the most common concerns people have
about real trees: that they are fire hazards
and that they aggravate allergies.According to an Auburn University
study, papers stacked beside lamps have a
greater chance of catching fire than do
properly watered real Christmas trees. In
fact, Leyland cypress trees tested in the
lab actually had higher moisture contents
after 37 days than on the day they were
cut. Other Alabama Christmas tree varieties
also tested well, dispelling the myth
that real trees are a fire hazard. In addition,
Paul said Leylands have a mild odor,
so they are ideal for allergy sufferers.The Beavers believe educating consumers
about the safety and environmental
benefits of real Christmas trees
can reverse the downward trend in sales,
and they are not alone. This year, the
NCTA started a massive marketing campaign
funded by producers who contribute 12 cents for every tree they sell.
The association also has partnered with
Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. to
offer discounts on real Christmas trees
at participating farms when families
present their ticket stub from The Polar
Express movie (visit www.christmastree.org for details).In Alabama, Paul and Carolyn hope an
upcoming merger of the ACTA with
Christmas tree associations in Mississippi
and Louisiana will revitalize their group
and give it the strength to offer more educational
programs for producers.Meanwhile, the Beaverses say
choose-and-cut farms like theirs will
continue to thrive as long as there are
families who want to recapture the joy
of a traditional, country Christmas.”There are so few farms now that we
have people who will find us on the
Internet and travel from as far away as
Huntsville, Decatur and Tuscaloosa to
cut a tree,” Carolyn said. “They come
here to enjoy the atmosphere of a good,
old-fashioned Christmas. It’s refreshing
just to be out here, and it’s a great way
to create a new family tradition.”Beavers Christmas Tree Farm is
open seven days a week from 9 a.m.
until dark beginning the Friday after
Thanksgiving. For information, visit
www.beaverschristmastreefarm.com
or call (205) 681-4494.Click here for a list of Alabama Christmas Tree Association Members

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