Environmental Benefits of Natural Christmas Trees
You would expect us to argue that a real or natural Christmas tree is a more environmentally friendly choice, but let us avoid the larger scale debate (for that, visit the fake tree page at www.realchristmastrees.org) and here focus on what it means to us as stewards of the acreage known as Isanti Pinestead.
On weekdays during the Christmas season we often have more time to engage in conversations with our customers. One topic that often comes up is the environmental benefits of real trees verses fake trees.
Some of the points we make, again, from our perspective here on the farm include:
- We are taking marginal farm land--part of the sand belt, called the Anoka Sand Plain, that arcs around the northern twin cities suburbs, and putting it to a much better use then attempting to grow corn or soybeans. On the sand, the traditional crops have much lower yields and require more chemicals and often overhead irrigation, then corn and soybeans grown in the rich black soil to the south of the Twin Cities.
- The other use for this sandy land is industrial parks and housing developments; what does that do for the environment? Last year a customer referred to us as an "urban forest". We hadn't thought of it that way before, but it may suggest a model as we continue to evolve the farm.
- If you look at our A Primer on Christmas Tree Farming page you will see that we can't apply the term "organic" to our trees, although we wish we could. We do have to chemically deal with certain pests or we wouldn't have a crop. This is especially true with a 10-12 year crop, as pests can become very well established once they get started. There are a few tree farmers that advertise organically grown trees but generally they are backyard growers with far fewer trees. Picking aphids off by hand is impossible on a larger farm like ours.
- One claim we can make is that we are a sustainable Christmas tree farm. We continue to replant on a planned rotation cycle. This entails clearing old fields, planting a green manure crop, and replanting-generally with a different species.
- Through our displays and discussions at the farm, most of our customers understand that they are harvesting from a crop; one which is planted, harvested, and replanted for the express purpose of providing them a Christmas tree for their holiday celebrations.
Of course, such conversations with customers at the farm are often "preaching to the choir" discussions. However, many times at off-farm social functions, conferences, mutual friend introductions, etc. when it becomes known I grow Christmas trees I get back comments such as: "How could you ever cut down a tree?", "I could never cut down a live tree.", or "We need those trees to protect the environment."
My response is perhaps a bit testy but it is usually something along the lines of: I will respect your opinion if you, like me.
- Have planted over 150,000 trees in your life time.
- And are currently caring for over 30,000 trees. Doing all the work and paying all the expenses without any private or governmental grants or USDA subsidies.
I have yet to meet "environmentalists" (outside of fellow Christmas tree growers) who come anywhere close to matching these numbers. Planting a couple of trees on Arbor Day is great and I'm glad they are, but don't criticize me for cutting some trees at Christmas when I am planting several thousand a year!
And I can't resist showing this photo which I took while driving down a county road near the farm. This tree took some of the world's increasing scarce petroleum products to manufacture, some of the United States's foreign exchange deficit to purchase, and now some some of Minnesota's valuable land fill space, where it will spend the next 6000 years degrading. Hopefully they are getting rid of it because next year they will go with a naturally grown real tree! Better yet if it is one of ours!