For a lot of us, holiday traditions require the purchase and decoration of a Christmas tree sometime in the next few weeks. If you've ruled out buying a fake tree--maybe because of nostalgia, maybe because of the chemicals used to manufacture them, the carbon footprint created by their import, and the sad thought of their still-intact but long-forgotten petroleum-based branches buried in a landfill one hundred years from now--you'll have to decide where to get your real tree. Lucky you--we've found many places in the Twin Cities to buy trees raised with the same sensibilities and practices we associate with organic foods and sustainable agriculture.
Trees grown in many large-scale commercial operations require fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides in order to thrive. But trees that come from smaller farms, often family-owned, can be given more personal attention and are raised in an environment where greater biodiversity means less overall threat from pests. When you find an eco-friendly tree, it probably won't come with an organic stamp or certification on it. But if you buy from vendors who know the provenance of their trees, you can make sure your Christmas tree is both literally and figuratively green. Amelia Flowers and Garden Shoppe
Balsam and Fraser firs
The Christmas trees for sale at Amelia Flowers are arguably themselves a recycled product. They are the end product of an underbrush-clearing effort meant to protect the health of old growth white pine stands in the north woods. Landowners and notable Minnesotans Jeff Forester and Will Steger (the former is the author of Forest for the Trees: How Humans Shaped the Northwoods
; the latter is an explorer) have combined their undergrowth stock to sell as "Organic Free-Range Christmas Trees." It's a wink of a name, but the trees are as wild as wild can be. Lacking the physical perfection of the average tree lot specimen, they are lovingly referred to as "Charlie Brown" trees.Mother Earth Gardens
Balsam, Eastern Balsam, and Fraser firs; white pines; spruce
The Osseo, Wisconsin tree farm of Henry and Gracia Anderson is the source for many of the trees at this Longfellow garden center. Sustainable practices at the Anderson farm include forgoing pesticides for Integrated Pest Management techniques, reducing weeds by mowing rather than through herbicide use, and hand application of fertilizer, which minimizes runoff.
Mother Earth Gardens also sells the "Organic Free-Range Christmas Trees" from the Forester and Steger lands. $15-$45.St. Paul Farmers' Market
Natural Balsam fir
The Christmas trees on offer at the winter farmer's market come from east central Minnesota's Wolcyn Tree Farms
. Most of them are grown conventionally, with applications of Round-Up for weed prevention and every-other-year fertilizer use. (Pesticides are not regularly employed, used only when a critter problem comes up.) But the tree farm keeps one plot of land free of chemical intervention--the plot where the Natural Balsam firs are grown. No fertilizer, no herbicides. Tangletown Gardens
Balsam, Fraser, Grand, and Noble firs
Located in its namesake neighborhood, this garden center features Christmas trees that are beautiful and fit in with the sustainable philosophy. "You can think of it as 'beyond organic,' " says owner Scott Endres. "Smaller growers have the time to know what they are growing and know the trees in their field. If there happens to be an outbreak of something, even though you've followed the principals of sustainable agriculture, you might use an earth-friendly pesticide to eliminate a pine borer on one tree before it affects all the rest of the crop." Their selection includes Fraser firs from North Carolina, Natural Balsam firs from Wisconsin, Balsam firs with a double needle from Nova Scotia, and Grand and Noble firs from Washington state.
Balsam, Fraser, Canaan, Natural Fraser, and Natural Balsam firs; Colorado blue spruce
Many of the trees for sale at this south Minneapolis garden center come from Hackers Tree Farm
near Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Dan Hacker, the owner, says, "We try to avoid any poison and with the variety of trees we raise, we don't have a problem with insects--Scotch pine was a real haven for bugs, so we don't raise it anymore." Although fertilizer is used, herbicides are not, as the weeds are dealt with by mowing.
Uncommon Gardens also carries Christmas trees eliminated from old-growth tree stands as part of good forestry practices. Here, the wild trees come from the private north woods land of Shining Hills Farm and Garden
owner Ryan Evans. Valley Natural Foods
White pine, white spruce, red pine
The trees at this Burnsville natural foods store come from Oneota Slopes Farm
in the northwestern corner of Iowa. They are raised using Integrated Pest Management instead of pesticides, without any synthetic fertilizers, in an area with lots of biodiversity.