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On Tree Farmers and Fake Trees: A Christmas Story

The tree Grace bought criminally early this year may not have been a local one. According to data from the National Christmas Tree Association, the total number of trees harvested in New York State has been…. Chopped… in half since 2002. Sorry. Local tree growers are fighting not only against artificial trees, but also out of state farms. Camila Kerwin reports.

KERWIN 1: Fabian and Melinda Laruzo are shopping at House of Holiday, a year-round Christmas store in Queens. And they’re asking a critical question:

FABIAN LARUZO 1: Let me get my — Melinda! What do you think about this, artificial trees versus real tree? (0:05)

KERWIN 2: Artificial, or real.

FABIAN LARUZO 2: We say real. (0:01)

KERWIN 3: But for many, the answer is a fake one. You have to buy a fake tree just once, but a real tree once every year. This trend towards fake Christmas trees has been bad news for tree growers and sellers in and around New York.

NAT SOUND: Footsteps

JASON SCHILLING 1: Just judging by it, looking at this one here, how tight the string is and the net is on it, that’s a fat one. (0:07)

KERWIN 4: That’s Jason Schilling — he knows Christmas trees. He’s been working here at Cedar Creek Nursery in New Jersey for fifteen years, where he’s now a manager. It’s part of the largest distributor of Christmas trees to NYC and New Jersey. As a tree veteran, Schilling says he’s seen local nurseries shut down.

CK 1: Are artificial trees like, a threat, to the Christmas tree industry? JASON SCHILLING 2: Somewhat, they are. The artificials definitely do put a kick on everything. (0:12)

KERWIN 5: Mary Jeanne Packer is the Executive Director of the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York. She agrees that artificial trees are one reason sales in New York have decreased by close to 15 % since 2002.

MARY JEANNE PACKER 1: Well there was definitely a huge national decline in the number of real trees. And then some places have never recovered from that decline. (0:10)

KERWIN 6: But the threat to local growers isn’t just fake trees — it’s also about about where retailers get their trees from. It’s cheaper for sellers in New York City to buy trees from big farms in areas like North Carolina and Nova Scotia. The thing is, Packer says those trees have been cut months before they make it to New York, and die quickly once people finally get them into their homes. Right now, her organization is sponsoring researchers to develop a way to measure tree quality. If State Inspectors used the test, she thinks it could turn around buying patterns in favor of local growers.

MARY JEANNE PACKER 2: And that would give our growers a huge competitive advantage, if we could keep the North Carolina trees out of the marketplace based on their freshness. (0:12)

KERWIN 7: Larry Guarino runs House of Holidays — the Christmas shop where Melinda and Fabian Laruzo were shopping. The trees he sells come from the kinds of out of state farms Packer worries about, in the Carolinas and Canada.

LARRY GUARINO 1: I mean, there’s some beetles that infest some of the trees up there that they don’t want brought down. So we don’t really bring them from those areas. (0:07)

KERWIN 8: Guarino says he’s seen an uptick in artificial tree sales. But as far as customer preferences at his store, it’s a mix. In the city, people opt for live trees:

LARRY GUARINO 2: You get to throw them away when you’re done. There’s no storage. It’s easy, it’s simple. (0:05)

KERWIN 9: But, in the suburbs:

LARRY GUARINO 3: The suburbs are going artificial, they can put them up earlier, they don’t have to worry about the needles. (0:05)

KERWIN 10: Diehard fans of real trees may be in luck. Mary Jean Packer — the director from the state Christmas tree organization — says the number of tree growers in New York is climbing fast, with no sign of slowing down.

For Uptown Radio, this is Camila Kerwin

Camila Kerwin studies journalism at the Columbia Journalism School. She freelances radio and video work in and around New York.


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