November 26, 2004
Tiny Town Sends Christmas Trees Worldwide
There are more Christmas trees than people in Colebrook, N.H. There are 500,000 trees alone at Weir Tree Farms, a family-owned farm considered to be the town's largest - that's 200 times more trees than Colebrook's population of 2,500.
"We're trying to grow a lot of nice trees and make a lot of children happy at Christmas time," said William Weir, 65, whose family will cut 14,000 balsam fir, fraser fir and "fralsam" hybrids this year.Perched on the Vermont border, Colebrook is considered the Christmas tree capitol of New Hampshire. Every year, a handful of family-run farms send tens of thousands of trees across the country.
"A gentleman once told me, 'You'll never get rich growing Christmas trees but you'll get an awful lot of satisfaction out of them,'" said Ken Willey, who grows trees with his wife in Colebrook and sells them in Mechanicsville, Va.
Trucks bearing this year's crop from Willey's Tree Farm started driving south last week.
"I first started working Christmas trees back in about 1970 and it was kind of a hobby thing," said Willey, whose farm has about 40,000 trees. "It has grown from a hobby into a small plantation."
Most New Hampshire trees go to lots in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But Internet sales are growing, farmers say.
"We've sent trees to Hawaii, we sent trees to Germany," said Jay Weir, 31, a third-generation owner of Weir Tree Farms. "They just want a little piece of New Hampshire in their living room for the holidays."
Weir and a brother, William Jr., bought the farm from their father, William. He had taken over the farm from their grandfather, Harlie Weir, in 1965. Their farm specializes in a naturally occurring hybrid they named the fralsam - a cross between the thickly-needled fraser and the fragrant balsam.
"It combines the good characteristics of a fraser fir and the good characteristics of a balsam fir," Jay Weir said.
Oregon was the top American tree producer in 2002, harvesting nearly 6.5 million trees. New Hampshire was 19th, producing 107,000 trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, an industry group. The major tree suppliers are Canadian, said state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Taylor.
But he believes New Hampshire trees, though few, have an edge over imports - "Those trees that are coming from Canada were mostly cut back in October, very early in November. They've got to travel in tractor trailers, go through wholesale channels," he said. "The New Hampshire trees are fresher because they've just been cut."
On the Net:
New Hampshire-Vermont Christmas Tree Association,
Willey's Christmas Trees, http://www.willeyschristmastrees.com
Weir Tree Farm. http://weirtreefarms.com
National Christmas Tree Association, http://www.christmastree.org/home.cfm