Iowa policymaker: Buy local Christmas trees


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Lying against the white, snowy earth, Brian Fuhrmeister joked with his 5-year-old son while preparing to chop down the family's ideal Christmas tree.

"All right, Lukas. I'm going to cut down the tree," the 37-year-old said with his family at Handley's Holiday Hillside Inc. "You carry."

Fuhrmeister and wife Lindsey Fuhrmeister have picked out real trees for Christmas since they were children, and they now pass the tradition to their children, Lukas and 6-month-old Luci.

The Fuhrmeisters are not the only Iowans supporting the tree farms this holiday season. Last month, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey encouraged all Iowans to choose fresh, locally grown holiday trees this year.

"As families begin the process of decorating their home for the Christmas season, I encourage Iowans to consider choosing a tree grown right here in the state to make the centerpiece of their celebration," Northey said in a press release. "Selecting a fresh Christmas tree can be part of a great family tradition, and it is an opportunity to support the local economy."

National data show that U.S. consumers bought 27 million farm-grown trees in 2010 — compared with 8.2 million artificial trees.

"We know that younger adults buy trees at a much higher rate than other populations," said Rick Dungey, the public-relations manager for the National Christmas Tree Association. "It should become more and more households are going to buy a real tree."

As long as the tree is real, it doesn't matter where it comes from, he said.

"I think that more people want to have the tradition that they pick out a new tree each year and not this big piece of plastic," Dungey said.

More than 1,500 acres of land are devoted to Christmas-tree production in Iowa, resulting in an annual harvest of 39,500 trees. This contributes roughly $1 million to Iowa's economy each year.

Margaret Handley, a co-owner of Handley's, said the Christmas tree-farm is a rarity.

"There are probably fewer than 100 Christmas tree farms in Iowa," the 79-year-old said. "[For] many people, this is not their choice to go to the farm. We try to sell experience."

Experience includes picking out trees with family members and building fun memories, said Handley, whose tree farm — one of two in Johnson County — began selling trees in 1976.

Dustin Vande Hoef, the communications director at the Iowa Department of Agriculture, said buying locally is a great way to develop healthy relationships.

"It helps spur relationships between Iowans and agriculture," he said, and making those connections is important for the state.

But for Lindsey Fuhrmeister, hunting for a Christmas tree is all about the memories with her family.

"I don't like the fake ones," she said. "It's part of the experience. Our house is all Griswold-like every year. It's what we do."

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