There is simply no place more beautiful at Christmastime than the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Among the many holiday traditions there is the annual tree raising inside the mansion’s spectacular banquet hall. And this year, like every other, the tree at the center of it all is an enormous Fraser Fir — the official Christmas tree of North Carolina. According to the Department of Agriculture, roughly 50 million Fraser Firs (the most popular kind of Christmas tree on the continent) are grown on approximately 25,000 acres here in North Carolina and we are the second largest producer of Christmas trees in the United States.
Asheville, nestled along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway in Buncombe County, is one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations, not only at Christmas but throughout the year. The city is consistently ranked at the top of virtually every “Top Ten” list and it’s certainly one of Ann and Pat McCrory’s favorite places to visit (the Governor’s official Western Residence is located there).
In addition to all the other great things the city has to offer, there is an abundance of musical and other artistic talent. So, in the spirit of the season, this afternoon we’re pleased to bring you a little slice of that talent with Asheville’s own Hank West & The Smokin’ Hots performing their original song “Xmas Tree.” The talented indie-jazz quintet is comprised of Henry Westmoreland (a.k.a. Hank West) on trumpet and vocals, Mike Gray on the drums, Jon Corbin on guitar, Leo Johnson on bass, and Andrew J. Fletcher rockin’ it on the piano. Check ’em out on Twitter, Facebook, and iTunes.
Oh — and those Christmas trees (O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!) are an important part of North Carolina’s economy too. Sarah Curry of the John Locke Foundation tells us more than yule ever need to know:
If you are still thinking about buying a Christmas tree this year, I hope you will seriously consider buying a fresh tree from a local North Carolina farmer. North Carolina is the second largest producer of Christmas trees in the country and home to the Fraser Fir, the most popular Christmas tree in North America. Christmas trees have a huge impact on the Mountain region of our state; this industry is the backbone of many small towns in the North Carolina Mountains.
Christmas Tree farming is concentrated in the far Western North Carolina counties, which include Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, and Yancey. In 2011, there were over 300 Christmas tree growers, with approximately 37 million trees growing over 32,000 acres. The Christmas tree industry has proven to be the main source of income for some of the small communities in the mountain counties, amounting to more than $75 million in sales during the 2011 holiday season. Ashe County leads in sales, with almost $30 million, followed by Avery, Alleghany and Jackson counties.
Historically, the Eastern red cedar was the traditional tree in the South, because it was commonly found in the woods and fencerows. It has been reported that as early as the 1930s small family farms would sell those trees in the larger cities for $1 to $2 each, using the money to pay for clothes or school. Over time, Christmas trees became more popular, and more people wanted to celebrate the Christmas season with trees in their homes. According to a Progressive Farmer article, four out of every five Christmas trees sold in the South in 1964 were from northern states and Canada. With an average retail price of $3 per tree, that was a $36 million industry lost to southern producers.
Local farmers, mostly in Avery County, started discussions with nearby farmers about the culture and best production methods of the White Pine and Fraser Fir in the mid-1950s. Farmers along with county agents, NC Forest Service, and NC State Foresters were all included in discussions of a method to garner more information and consolidate ideas and opinions regarding Christmas tree farming. In 1959, the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association was born and they started promoting Fraser Fir and White Pine trees as the Christmas trees of choice across North Carolina. Today the Fraser Fir is 96% of tree production in North Carolina, and is the species chosen most often for the White House Christmas tree.
Not only do North Carolina Christmas trees have a strong foothold in our mountain communities, but they also have many advantages over artificial trees for celebrating the Christmas holiday. Real trees come from family farms in the United States, so when you buy a real tree you are supporting a local farm. Artificial trees are made in Korea, Taiwan, or China, and do not help the local farmer in NC. Real trees are completely recyclable; they can be turned into mulch, used as wind and water barriers to prevent soil and sand erosion along beaches and rivers, or even put into ponds and lakes to create feeding areas for fish. Artificial trees have an average use of 6-7 years and are made from non-renewable plastics that eventually end up in our landfills. You live in a state the produces the most popular Christmas tree, and you should take advantage of it.
For more information on the Christmas tree industry in North Carolina, be sure to watch this presentation by Ms. Curry.
Have a very Merry Christmas — and may the joy and blessings of the Holiday season continue in our hearts throughout the New Year.