This time of year we give thanks for many things — including our families, our health, and our churches. We often overlook our decorations, however. Putting up the Christmas tree after Thanksgiving, stringing the lights and hanging the ornaments can seem like a daunting task rather than a blessing. However, if you choose a real tree, remember that someone worked hard to grow and harvest it. Growing Christmas trees requires a considerable amount of work, and the people who are hired to do this work are often seasonal laborers from the Guest Worker program supported by the North Carolina Grower’s Association. Christmas tree production and sales comprise more than a $100 million industry in North Carolina with five to six million trees harvested annually, Therefore, North Carolina has come to depend on the H2A visa program to provide seasonal laborers, the majority of whom are Latino.
Christmas tree production is very labor intensive. It includes planting, mowing, weeding, applying insect and disease control, shearing (or shaping), and packaging for marketing. First, a worker must walk around the mountains and mark which trees will be cut down, after which a crew of eight cuts down the tree with chainsaws and drag the tree to the sides of the field. Then the bailing begins, a process in which twine is wrapped around the trees so they are easier to transport. Finally, as many as 600 trees are loaded into trailers and driven to the loading yard to be unloaded, counted, and sorted. Obviously this is very difficult, heavy work that occurs in cold, wet conditions. Workers work 12- to 14-hour days during peak season, stooping down, lifting heavy trees, and carrying them in the fierce cold of the North Carolina mountains. Much of the work is seasonal, so the workers must find new employment after the holidays. Moreover, there are 25 different pesticides used in Christmas tree farming that can have adverse health effects for workers who apply them, if pesticide standards and trainings are not enforced.
One way to help farmworkers this holiday season is by being a socially conscious consumer and purchasing a Christmas tree that is grown in a sustainable manner, as well as investigating the living and working conditions of farmworkers on farms where your tree is grown. Toxic Free NC provides a list of retailers that sell organic or low-spray Christmas trees and wreaths in order to help you support local growers who respect their workers and our environment. Finally, if you do choose a real tree this Christmas, be sure to recycle it. Real Christmas trees are biodegradable and can easily be reused or recycled for mulch or other purposes. During this season of giving, let us be conscientious consumers and give back to those who are stewards of our environment.