• Key to perfect tree?
    By PATRICIA MINICHIELLO Herald Staff | November 28,2008
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    Albert J. Marro / Rutland Herald

    Five-year-old Trenton Spafford checks out the Christmas trees at Mike’s Country Store in North Clarendon recently. Sales of the trees benefit the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department.
    With Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge, the countdown to Christmas has begun.

    This year agriculture officials and holiday tree proprietors say picking the perfect tree should be a buy-local state of mind.

    "If you are interested in buying local, getting a real tree from Vermont keeps the money in the community and also gives you something that is biodegradable and has no carbon footprint," said Kelly Loftus, a spokeswoman for the agency of agriculture.

    Vermont sells about 150,000 trees annually, with about 300 growers in the state. The trees are harvested from more than 4,600 acres. Profits from the trees in terms of economic impact equates to about $12 million a year.

    "The Vermont brand goes a long way in the sale of Christmas trees," Loftus said, adding that 1,500 trees have already been shipped to Bermuda and 1,000 are headed for Canada.

    Loftus said New York and Boston are popular purchasers of Green Mountain trees as well, noting that a balsam fir, which could cost $40 in Vermont, would likely sell for $100 in New York City.

    Varieties of trees grown across the state include balsam fir, fraser fir, scotch pine, white pine and blue spruce.

    Mike Spafford, owner of Mike's Country Store in North Clarendon said his trees are mostly fraser fir and balsam fir, two kinds that "hold their needles well." His tallest trees are expected to reach anywhere from 14 to 16 feet high.

    About 100 trees arrived Wednesday, pre-Thanksgiving, and new shipments of fresh-cut trees arrive up until Christmas week.

    "I always have the early birds who put their trees up on Thanksgiving," Spafford said. "We are very careful to rotate our trees quickly, so that it's fresh in, fresh out."

    Spafford donates all the profits from the tree sales to the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department. Last year the sale raised $1,000 for new safety equipment.

    All of the trees he sells are from a local grower and Spafford said it's important to support the local economy.

    "I'm buying the trees from a local family. I buy my wreaths from a local woman. When you buy a Vermont tree, you're supporting your neighbors," Spafford said.

    In addition to retailers, there are several local tree farms where patrons can go to cut their own timber.

    At the 32-acre Gormley Tree Farm, just off Route 7 in Pittsford, both balsam firs and fraser firs are available for the sawing.

    Bill Gormley, owner of the farm, has about 3,000 to 4,000 trees priced at $30 each if you cut your own and $32 if you choose a pre-cut tree.

    John LaFountain, owner of a 3-acre tree farm in Rutland Town known as the place on Gleason Road, grows balsam Fir, white pine and blue spruce for $29 each. He said all his trees are fresh, as purchasers can handpick and cut their own.

    Another tree farmer, Russell Reay, who owns Paxton Greens in Cuttingsville, said there's an advantage to choosing fresh, local Christmas trees versus artificial ones.

    "The thing with an artificial tree is that it's made from imported oil. The big advantage with a fresh tree is that it's a natural product, a forest product as well as an agricultural product," Reay said.

    Reay's cut-your-own varieties include fraser fir and balsam fir for $28. Reay said during sale time, he sees many familiar faces as well as customers from Long Island and Boston supporting his business.

    On Tuesday, he said a Vermonter heading out of state for Thanksgiving purchased a tree to deliver to his in-laws.

    "His mother-in-law required that he bring a fresh Vermont tree to Thanksgiving," Reay said with a hearty laugh.

    In addition to growing trees, Reay has experience as a forester. He said he loves the process of teaching the trade as well as watching trees mature from seed to sapling.

    "In my other life, I'm a forester and have been for 40 years and as long as I'm growing trees, I'm happy. That's more or less what I live for, my trees." Reay said.

    Contact Patricia Minichiello at patricia.minichiello@rutlandherald.com.
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