We live in Christmas Tree Country. The crop of over 2 million holiday trees shipped from over 300 growers here makes Clackamas County the major contributor to Oregon’s 7 million tree harvest. This is big business. I’ve heard folks say they’re going to plant a bunch of little trees, wait 5 years, and clean up with a fat paycheck. It isn’t quite that easy. If you watch the fields of trees all year, you’ll see crews out there in every month and all weathers, planting trees, minding weeds, looking for infestations, shaping trees, and directing the harvest. Managing the market is no easy matter, either. There is a stand of handsome firs on our place, topping out above 40 feet now, that was originally planted as Christmas trees. When we arrived, they were far too big for livingrooms, and still spaced at the 5 foot intervals usual for a plantation of holiday trees. If not for that close spacing, we wouldn’t have guessed their original purpose. What happened, to cause the abandonment of this acre of firs? Only that Christmas tree culture turned out to be more work than the owners anticipated, and the hiring of crews to do it for them too costly. And, when the trees matured at 5 years of age, the market wasn’t ready for them. By the time the market loosened up again, the trees were too advanced for Boy Scout lots and supermarket garden centers. They make a nice timber lot now that they’re widened to 10-foot strides, but they’d be more advanced as timber had they been managed for that purpose in the beginning.
In any case, the hills around us have been humming with business the last two months. The harvest starts early, because many of these little trees go overseas for sale. Lots of them go East in the United States, too. There is a very good chance that the tree you pay $100 for in New York City came from a farm in Oregon.
Here’s a view of a lot down the road from us where the harvest is partly completed.
You can see the ground where this year’s allotment has been cut. It’s not quite a clear-cut because some trees lag behind, some are fillers put in where a tree failed to thrive. In the background is an acre or so that will be cut next year. The trees are shaped by shearing with razor sharp machetes during the year. It causes them to put out little branches of new growth at the outside of the tree, giving them that bottle-brush look so admired these days. (Personally, I prefer a tree with spaces between the branches so ornaments can hang down, but I am obviously not at the center of the demographic on this). To the right are some trees that have been cut and bundled up with string to make them travel well: no damage to branches sticking out, and they can be packed tight in containers for shipping.
Here’s a closer look at one of the tree baling machines that ties them up.
Click it to make it a little wider.
Here’s a crew at another location, prepping trees for transportation.
There is a helicopter in the background there, though it’s hard to see. All I could get from my roadside stop where I was standing in a ditch to avoid traffic was the rotor sticking out above the pile of trees. When I say the hills are humming with activity, I’m not speaking metaphorically. They are literally a-buzz with the sound of choppers moving trees from muddy lots to waiting trucks. It’s hard physical work these men do, in bad weather and for long hours.
If you have felt it’s a waste to bring that chopped-down tree into the house for a month, or if you’ve shuddered at the cost of it, give a thought now to the labor that went into producing it, and the numbers of families supported by the culture of that Christmas tree. It was a 5-year investment in agriculture in my neighborhood. (Enough now, with the 6th-Grade lesson in regional production.)