John and Fred Somerville
By Lisa McLean
Everett, Ontario – This month, when Fred Somerville harvests Christmas trees on his farm, he’ll be harvesting a crop that was 14 Christmases in the making. That’s because it takes an average of 12 to 15 years to grow a Christmas tree from seed to its average height of six or seven feet.
Somerville grows pine, spruce and fir trees near Everett, Ontario, through a business his father started in 1950. At that time, most trees harvested in Canada were grown in forest settings. Today, 98 per cent of real trees sold are grown on Christmas tree farms, often on agricultural land which is not ideal for food crops.
“Christmas trees are a crop like any other, and they’re grown and tended by farmers throughout the year,” says Somerville, who employs up to 130 staff members in the spring and summer months when planting and pruning are crucial to his crop’s success. “We know how important it is to take very good care of our trees and the environment they live in so we will have the healthiest, most beautiful trees available when it’s time to sell them.”
Somerville is a member of the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario, a provincial association providing grower education and consumer information. The association has recently designated Saturday December 8 the first annual “National Christmas Tree Day” and encourages a nationwide celebration of this iconic holiday symbol. But in an age of environmentally-conscious shoppers, many consumers question whether using a real cut tree is the greenest way to celebrate the holidays.
“Real Christmas trees are renewable, recyclable, and 100 percent biodegradable,” Somerville says. “Synthetic trees will be sitting at the dump for decades after a real one has returned its stored nutrients to the soil.”
The majority of Somerville’s trees are sold in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe area with 20% going to western Canada and a limited amount to the United States. His most popular tree is the Fraser Fir which he said is ideal because it doesn’t shed its needles like other varieties do.
Somerville notes real trees provide clean air, wildlife habitats and shade. And, trees provide measureable benefits to the land, water and air. The deep roots of a Christmas tree – even after it has been cut – keep soil in place and prevent erosion. Shade has a cooling effect on the earth and it helps soil to retain moisture. And trees naturally remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen. Somerville also notes that since trees are harvested on a 10-year cycle, a Christmas tree farm has 90 per cent of its trees at any given time, providing plenty of those environmental benefits on a rotating harvest and replanting cycle.
Nearly 650 Christmas tree farms in Ontario will sell up to 1.5 million Christmas trees this holiday season. For more information, including facts on how to care for your live tree, visit www.christmastrees.on.ca.