Brief History of the West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association
By Gene Bailey
Before World War II a few land owners in West Virginia were planting trees, mainly white and red pines and Norway spruce with the intent of selling them for Christmas trees. The idea came from observing a few land owners cutting wild trees and hauling them into nearby towns and selling them for Christmas trees. Almost nothing, at this time, was known about cultural practices which could be used to improve the quality of the trees.
During the war very few trees were planted but, once the war ended and the men and women returned to the land, many people began to plant evergreen trees to be sold as Christmas trees. Still, in those early days few used cultural practices although a few were observing the practices of nurserymen in improving landscaping evergreens.
During the late 1940’s and 1950’s land became available because so many people were leaving the farms and moving to the cities. A few people, in many different parts of the state, bought abandoned farms for a few dollars per acre and planted thousands of trees, for Christmas trees
During this time, in the early 1950’s West Virginia University Extension Service, under the leadership of Phil Berthy, began gathering information from other states, especially Pennsylvania, on cultural practices to improve the quality of evergreens being grown for Christmas trees. To better dispense this information, the Extension Service led the way in getting together several growers, from various parts of the state, in June 1954 in Beverly, West Virginia. At this meeting the West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association was organized with 24 charter members. Many other people, family members and workers of the charter members, attended that first meeting.
At that 1st meeting, which lasted parts of two days, cultural practices were demonstrated including shaping to increase density, identification and control of insects and diseases, and control of competing vegetation. From that small beginning, with only rudimentary cultural information, the WVCTGA has been devoted to helping members produce and sell the best quality Christmas trees at a fair price and always keeping in mind our desire to protect and improve the land which is being used.
With so much land available it soon became apparent that many more trees were being planted than could be sold as Christmas trees. During the 1st half of the 1960’s decade many trees, that had been planted for Christmas trees, were left unsold. However, these trees were not wasted and grew into homes for wildlife and for timber for the generations that followed. By the late 1960s many of the early growers dropped out of the business.
By 1970 the WVCTGA had only about as many active members as it had charter members in 1954. Under the leadership of Bill Kidd, WVU Extension Forester, a program was developed to revitalize the Association and the Christmas tree industry in West Virginia. The program included a newsletter each two months, workshops in different locations in the state and better planned exhibits at the West Virginia Forest Festival and at local fairs. There was also an emphasis placed on the production of by products such as wreaths and other items associated with the Christmas season. With growers planting smaller numbers of trees and selling the majority of their trees directly to consumers the Association and the industry was rebuilt. During that period of rebuilding the WVCTGA membership reached some 160 members.
For many years, into the 21st century, the membership of the WVCTGA remained fairly stable at about 120 members with most growers selling the majority of their trees directly to consumers. Today most growers encourage choose and harvest customers to come to the tree farm between Thanksgiving and near Christmas, or until all available trees for that year are sold, and choose and cut their own tree. Many customers bring their family, a camera and maybe even a picnic lunch and spend many hours choosing, harvesting and recording their Christmas tree farm experience.
The West Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association continues to hold two meetings each year, one in the winter and one on a Christmas tree farm in the summer, provides six newsletters each year and other information, often by e-mail to keep all members informed about the best cultural practices, harvesting practices and marketing strategies available. Our members are encouraged to produce the best quality trees possible, make the customer visit to the farm an enjoyable experience and protect and improve our land and wildlife resources for future generations.
We encourage Christmas tree purchasers to use natural trees and buy locally grown trees for the freshest, best quality, and to improve the West Virginia economy and to enhance our natural resources.