Environmentally Certified Christmas Tree Farms

Environmentally responsible Christmas tree farms using sustainable farming methods are located throughout the United States. In an agricultural industry still dominated by family farms, an intergenerational perspective has naturally led to good farm conservation practices.  Anchored in a deep respect for the land, these values are quietly practiced out of view of the public. What is still new to the industry is a formal certification process similar to inspections conducted for organic farms whose purpose is to provide information to the public.

Environmental certification of Christmas tree farms was initiated in 2007 by a small group of four tree farms located in Oregon, which is the leading state in the US for wholesale Christmas tree production.  environmental christmas tree farmsAt that time, the Coalition of Environmentally Conscious Growers (CECG) began a new voluntary program of physical environmental audits to confirm and document their farm practices.  Conducted by an independent organization experienced in the certification of sustainable farming called The Freer Group of Seattle, Washington, the coalition group set a high benchmark of environmental compliance with soil and water conservation, nutrient management, biodiversity, wildlife and riparian protection, integrated pest management, worker safety training and hygiene, and instituting as well a new requirement for consumer education.

Wholesale Christmas tree farms in the United States are especially found in Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan. In Oregon, State Department of Agriculture and farm extension officials are working with the Christmas tree industry to institute an inspection based program called SERF Certified (Socially & Environmentally Responsible Farm). Professionals in the Christmas tree industry there recognize the need to communicate with a public that is largely unaware and somewhat suspicious of the potential environmental implications when they buy a real Christmas tree each year. Small and independent family Christmas tree farmers’ naturally modest tendencies have left a void where real Christmas tree users know very little about a crop that is almost entirely produced domestically in the US.

One such small family farm, Santa & Sons Christmas Trees is owned and operated by Mark and Patricia Rohlfs.  Their farm is a certified member of the CECG Coalition and is currently enrolled in the initial certification trials with the Oregon Department of Agriculture SERF program, for which administrative rules have not yet been written.  Santa & Sons was founded in 1983 and is the only small farm member of the Coalition. They have been able to compete in a competitive business environment by farming Christmas trees in Oregon and operating their own wholesale distribution yard in Los Angeles, California. That site also serves as Santa & Sons retail Christmas tree lot.  Selling Christmas trees direct to the public from their location in the San Fernando Valley near Hollywood has given the farm a unique opportunity to communicate with consumers through the media. Appearances on The Ellen Show, The Tonight Show, QTV, the CBS Radio Network, LA Talk Radio and Los Angeles area television news have given Santa & Sons owner Mark Rohlfs opportunities to convey Christmas tree farming’s environmental message to the public.

A bright spot in the future for Christmas tree farming is a self-imposed, newly formed commodities commission for Christmas trees that will be administered by the USDA similar to other programs instituted by the beef, pork, dairy, and other agricultural industries. The new program, referred to as the Christmas tree check off, will provide consistent funding for new consumer oriented programs aimed at educating the public about how Christmas trees are grown on these family owned farms in an environmentally sustainable way, which until now have relied entirely on voluntary marketing efforts by trade groups and by individual efforts like an article published in 2010 by Santa & Sons owner Mark Rohlfs entitled Christmas Tree Farms Grow Green Jobs. In a similar way the larger CECG Coalition member farms Silver Mountain Christmas Trees, Holiday Christmas Trees, and Yule Tree Farms have reached out to educate the public about how they start the Christmas tree seedlings, plant the fields and then prune and maintain their crops through the years until harvest time when they are carefully lifted out of the fields using helicopters to quickly ship Christmas trees to markets throughout the United States and Mexico.
The environmental certification of Christmas tree farms is an issue so new to the Christmas tree industry and the retail Christmas tree buying public that its final form and the eventual impact it will have are still waiting to be determined.