Michigan’s Christmas tree legacy starts with the Scotch pine. Easy to grow in soils where other agricultural products struggled, this hardy pine helped establish growers across the state.
From these small beginnings evolved a massive industry. Michigan Christmas tree sales totaled approximately $1.6 million in 2013, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. That included 70,000 exports. Today, Michigan remains a leader in Christmas tree production on a large-scale basis.
‘It’s Christmas. Keep it Real.’
Under the umbrella of the USDA, a new organization called the Christmas Tree Promotion Board is determined to keep fresh-cut Christmas trees in homes for the holidays. As part of the board’s efforts to further publicize the advantages of live trees versus artificial trees, consumers will see more of this catchy slogan: “It’s Christmas. Keep it Real.”
“It is very concerning that many people think an artificial tree is better for the environment,” says Marsha Gray, director of industry communications for the Christmas Tree Promotion Board and executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association. “We were all taught to save trees, but the fallacy lies in that this is an agricultural product.”
She notes while a tree is growing, it’s providing oxygen, clean air, wildlife habitat and helps stop soil erosion. “Then when you’re done with it at the end of the season, it’s biodegradable,” Gray says. “Trees can be recycled into mulch and even a few U.S. cities are powered by waste wood, including Christmas trees.”
Artificial trees, on the other hand, end up in landfills. “By not buying a real tree, you’re not saving a tree,” Gray adds. “You’re putting a farmer out of business. These are family farms growing a product that is intended to be harvested and replanted.”
Pick a Tree, Any Tree
Jerry Peterson, past board member of the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, has been selling choose-and-cut Christmas trees since 1988, even before opening Peterson’s Riverview Nursery, located in Allegan, in 1993.
Fast forward to 2016, and the family-operated business now grows 35,000 to 40,000 Christmas trees at one time on the farm. Nearly 50 acres of the operation are devoted to production. With the average growing time of a Christmas tree at seven years, including annual trimming and pruning, the commitment is one not taken lightly by growers. For Peterson, his continued enthusiasm is rooted deeply in customer satisfaction.
“The customers coming to our farm to purchase Christmas trees are always in a good mood,” Peterson says. “It makes us happy knowing our trees give people so much enjoyment.”
Michigan grows more species of Christmas trees than any other state, thanks to a moderate climate and well-drained soils. However, the family remains dedicated to Fraser firs.
“Fraser firs are one of the more challenging Christmas trees to grow, but they are in high demand and command a better price,” Peterson says. “Customers enjoy them for their excellent needle retention, dark green color and pleasant fragrance.”
Taking great pride in supplying such high-quality trees, the Peterson nursery has become a staple in the industry, serving the Midwest and beyond.
Trees For Troops
To ensure U.S. soldiers and their families enjoy a farm-fresh Christmas tree for the holidays, Michigan has proudly supported Trees for Troops since its inception in 2005. Each year, Michigan’s Christmas tree growers donate more than 1,000 trees to support the program, which has brightened Christmas for more than 122,000 families at more than 65 military bases worldwide.
Peacock Road Tree Farm in Laingsburg is just one of several offering customers the opportunity to get involved and buy additional trees – making Trees for Troops one of Michigan’s new holiday traditions.