Weighty blankets of snow are frosting the evergreen limbs of Christmas tree farms in Michigan this time of year. Families are swaddling their youngest members in so many layers that the tots look more like marshmallows than children, and they’re tromping through the rows of firs in search of the perfect tree to gather-round on Christmas morning.
By the end of the holiday season, almost three million Michigan Christmas trees will have sheltered crisply wrapped packages under their boughs. These are a small fraction of the 25-30 million live Christmas trees sold in the United States every year.
Although the sales of artificial Christmas trees have increased steadily since 2010, the no-mess appeal of synthetic material still hasn’t beat the sales, or nostalgic draw, of live trees. In Newton, families hoping to deck their halls with one of Michigan’s finest evergreen specimens have a family-owned option in its second season — Emmy’s Christmas Trees on First Avenue East.
“My daughter had the idea a couple years ago when she wanted to sell Christmas trees. She loves Christmas,” said Jason Ray, owner-operator of the tree stand. “We gave it a shot last year, and she wants to keep doing it, so here we are.”
Ray, who usually splits his time between operating a lawn-care and snow removal business and working for Realm, has spent his 5 to 10 p.m. hours Monday through Friday since Thanksgiving night, girding himself from the winter chill with a knitted toboggan cap and fingerless gloves. On the weekends, he camps out at the stand from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. His daughter Emerson, a bright-eyed girl in layers of fleece, joins him every weekend and on most evenings.
During Thanksgiving weekend, Ray and Emerson sold 32 trees. They still have a few left, but the pickings grow slimmer each day. If any tree doesn’t find homes before Christmas, Ray will donate them to Discover Hope, the Newton-based organization down the street from Emmy’s dedicated to addiction recovery.
The father-daughter duo is slowly becoming a Newton Christmas fixture. Customers have even started dropping off soul-warming hot chocolate for Ray and Emerson. Last year, they operated out of a trailer in the parking lot of O’Reilly Auto Parts. This year, a family friend has allowed them to display their trees on his empty lot. A concrete strip fronts the expanse, and it’s ideal for people parking their cars and strapping Christmas trees on their roofs with yards of sturdy twine. The space welcomes customers with a cheery, multi-colored sign.
The inspiration for the twinkle lights that line the rows of Fraser firs and for the wooden shed labeled “Gingerbread Ave.” hail from Ray’s own classic Christmas childhood memories. His parents took him to see Santa Claus at a now-defunct shopping mall, and each year they also picked out a tree. He hopes to create another version of those memories both for his daughter and other children in the community.
“This is something that I hope when Emerson gets older, she’ll tell her kids or grandkids about it,” Ray said. “I just like the idea of seeing families come down. I get the joy of watching the kids come down and pointing at the trees. Christmas isn’t all about the money and the presents. We’re doing this to try to have families make memories.”
Thanks to Emmy’s Christmas Trees, more Newton children will have memories of sap sticking to their fingers as they hang ornaments and evergreen-infused Christmas mornings. In addition to the satisfaction of carrying on holiday traditions, purchasing live trees benefits the environment and American workers.
When Christmas trees are growing on their hillside farms, they provide habitat for wildlife, filter toxins from the atmosphere and water and curb soil erosion. After the holiday when your Christmas tree begins to wither, you can take it to one of the four thousand Christmas tree recycling programs in the nation.
The live Christmas tree industry also creates more than 100,000 jobs for Americans each year, according to the Michigan Christmas Tree Association — an industry group for tree farmers. By contrast, America imports 85 percent of artificial Christmas trees from overseas, most predominately China. Data released from the EPA in 2012 shows these artificial trees are typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, the manufacture of which releases toxic chemicals, including dioxins, a known carcinogen, into the environment.
Contact Phoebe Marie Brannock at 641-792-3121 ext. 6547 or firstname.lastname@example.org