Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Old McDonald Had a Christmas Tree Farm

With Christmas less than two weeks away, it's go time for tree farmers throughout the country. It is my assumption that when you hear the word "farm," the first thing to come to mind is not a Christmas tree. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are close to 15,000 farms in the United States that work to grow this beloved holiday decoration. More often than not, Christmas trees are grown in soil types that aren't suitable for growing food--typically in fields, not forests--as a renewable, recyclable resource.

Growing these trees takes more patience and hard work than one would think. For every tree harvested this year, three seedlings are planted the following spring. Once the seedlings are planted they take an average growing period of 7 years to reach 6 to 7 feet tall. During those 7 years, the same trees require lots of maintenance--from shaping and shearing to weeding and mowing, as well as protection against insects and other wildlife. 

Hunter Bros. Tree Farm planted their first Christmas tree in 1984.
Similar to those who grow our food, fuel, and fiber, tree farmers occasionally struggle to make ends meet. A recent article in The New York Times warns customers that the perfect Christmas tree may be harder to come by this year, or at least about 10% more expensive than years prior. Much like the rest of the items on your holiday shopping list, Christmas trees can be purchased online. Though this trend seems to be growing in popularity, maybe the industry's slowness to catch on--compared to other online buying habits--has more to do with family tradition. For many families, like mine, picking out the tree is the best part of the whole process.

Year after year, my family and I make the short commute to Hunter Bros. Tree Farm in Chariton, Iowa, to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. We established this holiday tradition several years ago when we lost our fake tree during a house fire. My parents thought this would not only be the perfect way to create holiday memories together, but also a chance to support a locally owned business and fellow farmer. Our visits to the tree farm often included wandering through standing trees in search of the perfect one, taking a family picture on the schoolhouse steps, browsing through the gift shop, finding a wreath to complement our front door, and enjoying a Christmas cookie or two with a cup of hot chocolate. Some years it's snowing while other years you can get by with a light jacket. No matter the weather, the holiday spirit fills our souls as we make memories that will last a lifetime.

My sister's and I soaking up a healthy dose of Christmas spirit
at Hunter Bros. Tree Farm.
Not only does your Christmas tree play a significant role during the holiday season, but it can also be recycled. Each year, when the ponds are still frozen over, my father makes his way onto the ice with our dried up Christmas tree in tow. Once spring arrives and the pond thaws, the old Fraser fir sinks to the bottom, providing a natural and decomposing habitat for fish. It also attracts algae, giving them something to eat. If you don't have a pond on your property, most game and fishery departments will offer a drop-off service for trees to use in community lakes and ponds. A few additional ways to recycle your tree might be using the dried needles as mulch in your yard or chopping the remaining log for next winter's firewood.

Our family chooses to go the farm-grown Christmas tree route because we look forward to carrying on the Christmas tradition each year, as we savor that fresh pine smell. So next year when Christmas rolls around, help support your local tree farmer by purchasing a real tree to place your presents under.

By: Kylie Peterson 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Farm Toys, Alexa, and Santa

With Christmas fast approaching, a farmer turns from his tablet screen where he has been monitoring the health of his milk cows. "Alexa," he says to a silo-shaped speaker on the kitchen table, "what farm toys should I get for the kids this year?"

Alexa's algorithmic upbringing programs her to list old-school toys first. "A red barn with white trim for your eight-year-old might be good. The wooden ones with real cupolas and hinged haymow doors are rare, but plastic barns that come with shiny, happy farm animals are plentiful. You might try a My Little Pony set for your youngest."

At this point, the farmer could reflect on the fact that he is taking advice from an "intelligent personal assistant device" that reminds him a bit too much of a miniature monolith from the film 2001, A Space Odyssey. Or he might just glance at the grain market report on his iPhone while Alexa moves on to more contemporary toys.

“Drones are popular. Your preteen can fly one the size of a drink coaster indoors and pretend he is surveying fields and herding cattle. The X-2 model has extra padding in case he flies it into the picture window or tries to land it on his grandpa's bald head while he sleeps in the recliner."

"Cut the humor, Alexa. Anything else?"

"One company offers toy confinement buildings equipped with manure lagoons and honey wagons that spray liquid. They recommend this toy for outdoor use since it comes with scratch-and-sniff aroma capabilities."

"I hope you're not cyber pranking me. Speaking of digital, any good apps?”

"May I suggest Old McDonald's Kandy Krush for the youngest, Pokémon Down on the Farm for the eight-year-old, and Old West Virtual Reality Range War for the oldest one. Did you know sheep and cattle ranchers were not very nice to each other in those days?"

"Thanks for the history lesson, but let's get some orders in. Search for a real wooden barn, a sixteen-row combine, and the little ponies set. Also, the miniature drone--and just to keep up with the superhero craze, add two action characters: Thor and Wonder Woman."

"Excellent choices. With that hammer of his, Thor will be very handy around the farm, and Wonder Woman can move hay bales and loads of grain in no time."

“By the way, Alexa, do you believe in Santa?”

“I have never met the man, but according to the Apple Company, you can download an app and your children will receive a personalized call from Santa. Apparently it can be used to ‘encourage good behavior’ all year long.”

“Enough of the parenting tips. Play a classic version of Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas.’ And add more cowbell.”                               

by Dan Gogerty (top pic from and bottom from facebook.jpg)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Youth and Agriculture--Some Encouraging News

A type of rural Methuselah effect has some worried that farmers are aging, while young people have little interest in food production--but a recent survey shows that the trends might be shifting.

According to the 2017 National Young Farmer Survey, America’s new generation of young farmers expects to overcome major barriers to their success in agriculture--including access to land, affordable health care, and mounting student loan debt; but according to some, success will require deliberate policy change at all levels of government. The survey was conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition in partnership with Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

Reactions to this report vary, but some note that the farming landscape is changing in key ways. According to this article, the new generation can’t hope to replace the numbers that farming is losing to age. But it is already contributing to the growth of the local-food movement and could help preserve the place of midsize farms in the rural landscape.

Moving Toward Agriculture: Personal Choice, School Projects, and International Development

This two-time Super Bowl champ decided the place for him is the family farm.

In St. Louis, Missouri, a group of adolescents and young adults learns about economic development, self-sustainability, and urban agriculture through the Sweet Potato Project

The African Development Bank—with the leadership of Akinwumi Adesina--launched the Youth Advisory Group to create 25 million jobs and benefit 50 million youth over the next 10 years by equipping them with the right skills to get decent and meaningful jobs. 

by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom from