I did my part for Christmas tree growers

December 15, 2010

When I heard about the hard times facing our beloved Christmas tree industry, I did what any good, patriotic consumer would do.

I bought two trees. I just wish I could say it was on purpose.

I know, I know, what about global warming and all that – but you could consider this my personal economic stimulus package for an industry facing shrinking revenues and an ever-conniving army of tree bandits.

Sure, Christmas trees are still big business here. Across Canada, growers earned almost $60 million last year. And we still cut down 5.5 million of them annually – so yeah, we spend a silly amount of money on something that we’re just going to mulch after three weeks.

But on the 500th anniversary of the first documented use of a decorated Christmas tree, it appears the festive tree industry as a whole is under siege. Revenues, for one, are plunging – down 12 per cent since 2002, according to the CBC.

The black market in stolen trees, meanwhile, has never been healthier.

Earlier this month, Doug Drysdale drove out to one of his Christmas tree farms near Egbert, Ont., and found thieves had beaten him to the punch. Someone had driven over his fence, cut down 100 of his balsam firs and snuck off with them in the middle of the night.

Most of the trees we export go the U.S. And they’re getting stolen down there, too. Things have gotten so desperate in Pekin, Illinois, that they’re stealing Christmas trees while the owner watches.

According to a story last week, Tannah Wiseman was driving home with a tree on her roof when the thing blew off. By the time she turned her car around, another driver was already loading the tree into the back of his truck. Despite her pleas, and the cries from her two little girls, the Grinch drove off.

In Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, thieves stole two trees over the weekend, including a 14-foot beauty that was put up in a shopping plaza. The local Lions club was so bummed they said they won’t be buying a replacement.

In Almeda, California, they did one better. Thieves hit a part of this Silicon Valley town called “Christmas Tree Lane” and stole the whole kit: Christmas lights, candy canes and even poles used to hold up decorations.

On and on, the list goes – Christmas tree lot bandits and other boo-hooers stealing decorations and pretty spruces, balsams and firs around the world. From Denton, Texas, to Toowoomba, Australia—it’s a real place, I checked—the Scrooge-like reports have been flying in.

You can’t help but feel for our poor Christmas tree farmers in these tough times. So, two weekends ago, the lady of the house and I were trampling through the woods intent to show our local growers some of us still like to pay for our trees.

The sign on the side of the road had said U-Cut Xmas trees. The owner later explained it was really a former tree farm, which is a polite way of saying it was an overgrown forest. After searching for an hour, we cut down the best tree we could find.

But once we got it to the car, it looked more like a crooked broom stick with a couple of branches stuck on for decoration. We paid the owner and sulked off.

I told the lady of the house that as the man of the house I’d decided we’d make do with our Charlie Brown tree. End of story.

Ahem. Seven days later we were back in the woods, looking for a second, better tree. We brought our hound dog along to help, and he promptly showed his thanks by peeing in the doorway of the tree farm owner’s barn.

I tried telling nearby children that giant yellow puddle in the snow that customers were jumping over came from reindeer, but they weren’t buying it.

We searched and searched and searched some more. After hiking around the farmer’s fields for another hour, we finally found the perfect tree – already cut, and lying about five feet from where we parked the car.

Anyway, Christmas tree bandits, if you’re still intent on stealing trees, I’ve got one you can have.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

Guelph Mercury, 12/15/10

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