Monday, November 30, 2009

The following article appeared in the Providenc Journal Sunday edition - Page 1!
(Pictures did not transfer to the blog for some reason)

Hunt begins at Tiverton farm for ideal Christmas tree
01:00 AM EST on Sunday, November 29, 2009
By Steve PeoplesJournal Staff Writer

Kathy and Matt Poirier, of Somerset, and their son Matthew, 5, talk to Emily Watne, 15, who was giving rides on Sparky, a Welsh Shetland pony at Clark’s Tree Farm in Tiverton.
The Providence Journal / Kathy BorchersNicholas Aprea cuts down a tree at Clark’s Tree Farm on Main Road in Tiverton.
Journal / Kathy Borchers
TIVERTON –– The little girls run ahead, disappearing among the tangles of Frasers, Canaans and spruce.
“Come back here!” David Herfert shouts, a half-hearted request he knows will be ignored.
The Herfert girls are on a quest.
Mackenzie trots through the heart of Clarks Christmas Tree Farm, a red Santa’s cap covering her blonde locks. Olivia, two weeks shy of her 3rd birthday, tries to keep up.
It’s 27 days before Christmas, and these girls have waited long enough.
“We always do it after Thanksgiving,” explains their mother, Kim, holding the Tiverton family’s newest addition, 1-year-old Kennedy. “The kids get so excited. They listen to Christmas music year round.”
The Herferts were among dozens of families that braved Saturday’s biting winds to search out the perfect tree at Clarks, a quaint tree farm with the little red gate off Main Road that offers customers free pony rides, hot cider and reggae holiday tunes.
Rhode Island’s tree farms are now entering their busy season, when weekends will bring carloads of excited children and parents willing to spend between $45 and $70 to preserve this American holiday tradition, despite the poor economy.
“Whatever they cut back on, people still get a Christmas tree if that’s their tradition,” said Eric Watne, who has operated Clarks with his wife and two daughters for the last five years.
But the number of Christmas tree farms in Rhode Island has fallen significantly in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And sales are down nationally.
The Ocean State featured 60 such tree farms in 2002, but just 49 in 2007, according to the most recent federal census of agriculture. This year, the number has dropped to 34, according to a list provided by the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association.
While sales data wasn’t available for Rhode Island, national sales of “cut Christmas trees and short-rotation woody crops” totaled $384.6 million in 2007, down nearly 4 percent from $399.8 million in 2002, according to the USDA survey.
Watne, who also serves as the president of the R.I. Christmas Tree Growers Association, said his farm probably would have died when it was up for sale five years ago. His wife was the real estate agent with the listing, and most of the interest came from developers who likely would have subdivided the 8-acre property.
“I feel like I have to keep this thing going,” said Watne, who has a day job working for Fannie Mae.
In addition to development pressures, Watne said that some local growers took a hit in recent years after state officials determined that that live trees could create fire hazards in some public buildings.
“There’s a lot of misinformation,” he contended. “Live trees, unless they’re totally dried out, they’re not going to leap into flames.”
The issue has created considerable debate between artificial tree producers and farmers.
The Web site for the Rhode Island Christmas Tree Growers Association, for example, offers a section on “Fake Tree Facts.” It includes a color photo of an artificial tree fire that engulfs a home.
But the American Christmas Tree Association, based in West Hollywood, Calif., fights back on its Web site, saying “U.S. fire departments responded to more than 200 home structure fires annually from 2002 to 2005 that began with Christmas trees.” But the Herfert family isn’t concerned about economic trends or fire safety statistics.“It’s the cardinal sin of Christmas,” Kim Herfert says of buying an artificial tree, as she trails her giggling children. “That wouldn’t compare to the scent, the feel of doing this.”
And after nearly half an hour of weaving through rows of trees, Mackenzie has accomplished her mission.
“We found it! We found it!” she shouts, standing alongside a pudgy 7-foot Fraser fir.
Fifteen minutes later, longtime farm worker Nicholas Aprea, of Newport, has used a handsaw to cut the tree and tie it to the roof of the family’s SUV.
“Merry Christmas,” he says to baby Kennedy, who waves back.
The Herferts maneuver down the dirt path, through the red gates and toward home. They plan to spend the evening decorating their new tree.
More information about Christmas tree farms in Rhode Island can be found at:

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