Lenderink Tree Farm in Belmont is open about one month per year but still draws thousands of visitors looking for fresh Christmas trees. Courtesy Ed Nash from Lenderink Tree Farm
The Patten family did something different when they visited Vormittag Tree Farm this year.
Unlike the previous two years, when the family of five agreed on which Christmas tree they wanted, Melissa Patten said they gave a handsaw to their 11-year-old son to cut down the 9-foot Fraser fir Christmas tree in November.
“It was his first year doing all the hard work, which was fun,” Melissa Patten said. “It was great. He got right down on the ground and got muddy.”
John Vormittag, owner of Grand Rapids-based Vormittag Tree Farm, said there are about 30,000 trees planted on his 60-acre farm. Some of the trees on the farm include white pine, blue spruce, Concolor fir and Fraser fir, which Vormittag said is the most popular. The tallest trees are 12 feet, and the prices range from $30 to $200.
Vormittag said the demand for real Christmas trees has been increasing.
According to a consumer tracking poll commissioned by the National Christmas Tree Association and conducted by Nielsen, in 2015, there were 25.9 million real trees purchased nationally. The numbers increased in 2016 when 27.4 million trees were bought.
In that same poll, 12.5 million artificial trees were sold in 2015; in 2016, 18.6 million fake trees were sold. According to Doug Hundley, a spokesperson for the National Christmas Association, the artificial trees are assembled mostly in China out of non-biodegradable plastic and heavy metals.
Amy Start, the executive director of Michigan Christmas Tree Association, said in an email that Michigan is ranked third nationally in supply, providing 1.7 million to 2 million fresh Christmas trees to the national market each year.
The state has approximately 27,000 acres in commercial Christmas tree production, with an annual farm gate value of more than $27 million last year, Start said.
“The industry receives an additional $1.3 million in sales of wreaths, cut boughs, garland and other out greens,” Start said. “For every Christmas tree, one to three seedlings are planted the following spring. The climate and soil conditions in Michigan allows for farmers to grow more of a variety of tree species than any other state.”
There are no statistics available to compare 2015 to the 2016 sales because the new USDA Agriculture census will not take place until 2018. The past numbers are updated every two to four years, according to Start.
Ed Nash, one of the owners of Lenderink Tree Farm in Belmont, said he has noticed an increase in the number of people who are visiting his farm and buying Christmas trees.
“For our farm, (demand) has increased yearly over the last decade,” Nash said. “Thousands of people visit the farm because it is only open for one month out of the year. When you start counting mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, thousands of people come through. It is gaining a lot of popularity among family events.”
Kip Weinberger, who recently moved to Michigan from Ambler, Pennsylvania, said he and his growing family visited the Lenderink Tree Farm for the first time.
“I was a farmer in Pennsylvania, and I like real trees,” Weinberger said. “It is just something I wanted to do to start that sort of tradition with my family.”
Patten said she uses the Christmas tree shopping as a teachable moment for her kids.
“We turn it into a whole business lesson,” Patten said. “Christmas tree farmers grow these trees and the money (they) make for the month of December has to keep all year long. Instead of dragging a piece of plastic out of the basement and propping it up, it becomes a whole experience for the kids, and I think that is important.”