BOISE — Finding the perfect Christmas tree is an annual family affair for many customers of North End Organic Nursery in Boise.
“I think people really feel like it’s a Christmas experience to come and go through a lot like ours where it’s not just in and out, grab a tree and let’s go home,” said Lindsay Schramm, owner of North End Organic Nursery.
“Pretty typically the entire family shows up and everybody has a say in what kind of tree it is.”
Schramm said her nursery champions this idea of Christmas tree shopping being less of an errand and more of an experience to be shared each and every year.
“I think people are craving that a lot,” Schramm said. “Getting through Christmas can become a lot of shopping and errands and stuff like that, whereas going and buying a tree and bringing it home is a memory.”
Unfortunately, the scarcity of Christmas trees throughout the country has made this type of experience more difficult to create. According to the most recent data from the National Christmas Tree Association, the U.S. went from harvesting almost 21 million Christmas trees in 2002 to harvesting about 17 million in 2012. Particularly in the Northwest, where a majority of Christmas trees are grown, the number of tree farms has continued to decrease — especially in the past decade.
Tree farms: a dying art
According to Schramm, a lot of this has to do with the housing crash in 2008 combined with a glut in Christmas tree growing, which caused many tree farmers to leave the industry. Some of these farmers decided to switch from Christmas trees to other crops that were seemingly in greater demand, such as hazelnuts. Hazelnuts have grown in popularity due to products like nutella, especially overseas.
In order to continue providing high-quality and local trees despite this scarcity, Schramm said she’s had to switch between many different growers in the past decade.
“I have had to switch (growers) several times because of scarcity and the fact that farming is often a family business,” Schramm said. “The first grower I worked with was also out of Sandpoint — actually just down the street from my current grower — and they retired and the kids didn’t want to take over the farm, so they just cut their trees down and called it good.”
Schramm said she then switched to a grower in Oregon, which is where most Christmas tree lots in the area get their trees, and then back to Sandpoint where she ended up with the grower she currently has.
At what cost?
As Christmas tree farms have continued to become more scarce, the prices of trees are consequently rising year after year.
“(The price has) gone up dramatically,” Schramm said. “It’s tripled in the past 10 years, easily. The price has tripled, but we haven’t tripled our prices. If you go too far, then whether people really want an artificial tree or not, they go with it just because they just can’t justify the cost of a Christmas tree.”
Schramm said maintaining reasonable prices for customers is more important to her than playing the supply and demand game. However, in addition to scarcity, Christmas tree trends have also impacted the price of trees. Each year, people may change their preference on the type of Christmas tree they want, which isn’t conducive to the inflexibility of the Christmas tree industry.
“It takes seven to 10 years to grow a Christmas tree, so when all of a sudden you start to see Grand firs become more trendy, then you grow a bunch of those, and then all of a sudden Fraser firs are more trendy or Noble firs are more trendy,” Schramm said.
Schramm foresees the industry moving away from Noble firs because of their scarcity and towards more Fraser firs because of their longevity.
“People are decorating and getting into Christmas earlier and earlier every year, so I believe that longevity is probably going to win out over smell as the years progress. If people are going to buy a tree, they want to keep it up for as long as possible,” Schramm said.
Continuing to educate
Despite the continued decrease in Christmas tree farming, places like North End Organic Nursery have still been able to continue selling real Christmas trees. Through continuing to sell Christmas trees, Schramm hopes to educate people on the benefits of having a real Christmas tree each holiday season instead of an artificial one.
“Christmas trees actually hold open a lot of space for wildlife,” Schramm said. “There’s a lot of soil retention, it keeps a lot of agricultural land out from being developed, they create an enormous amount of oxygen and habitat for animals and insects and they provide agricultural rural jobs in all 50 states.”