This Christmas tree with Ohio origins made for some military holiday cheer after a very long journey.

Big faith, little seeds

By Matt Reese

As the last glaciers advanced south into what is now Ohio, there is evidence that a continuous stand of beautiful fir trees extended from Canada south to North Carolina along the Appalachian Mountains. As the climate warmed, much of this unbroken forest of fir was replaced with other tree species in the lower elevations, leaving only isolated pockets of fir stands on the mountaintops and in mountain bogs.

These trees stood, unknown by mankind for thousands of years, until Jim Brown, who would later become a professor and associate chair of forestry at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) took notice in the late 1960s. Over the next two decades Brown conducted extensive research into this newly discovered type of fir tree with the hopes of finding a tree suitable for Christmas tree production. He found this unique tree that was not a balsam fir and not a Fraser fir, but with characteristics of both, in four separate and isolated areas within around 50 miles of each other in West Virginia. He called the tree the West Virginia Balsam.

Brown rallied industry leaders around his discovery, including those at Timbuk Farms in Licking County. A group painstakingly harvested a commercial quantity of seed from the Appalachian trees and began work with Weyerhaeuser Co., based in Washington, to commercialize the tree through the Canaan Fir Co. at Timbuk Farms in the early 1990s. 

This year my family’s Christmas tree farm is celebrating 40 years since we began planting Scotch pines, white pines and blue spruce for Christmas tree production in Hancock County in 1983. We started planting Canaan fir trees soon after they became commercially available and, like most Ohio Christmas tree farms, the Canaan fir has become by far our biggest seller and most successful tree variety. It looks similar to the ever-popular Fraser fir but can grow well in Ohio’s heavy soils. 

In 1995, the Ohio Christmas Tree Association started the Operation Evergreen Program shipping Ohio grown Christmas trees to U.S. military troops stationed far from their families during the holidays. In November of 2022, as we do every year, we invited the local community and area veterans out to the farm to harvest three Canaan fir Christmas trees for donation to the program. Local elementary students, retirement communities and other community groups brought thousands of hand-made ornaments to the farm for the event to send with the trees.

The trees and ornaments from the farm were hauled to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for inspection, packaging and shipping and shipped to U.S. military posts around the world, including, apparently, Texas. The local Cory-Rawson elementary students included a note with the ornaments they made and received this letter in late December of 2022:

My unit, the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, headquartered in Texas, was very excited to receive our live Christmas Tree! We were all shocked and couldn’t believe it was a real tree! A group of Soldiers began putting it up right away and our Commander put the homemade star on top! 

Although we miss our families terribly, especially this time of year, receiving support and even gifts from people back at home means so much! 

Also, personally, I’m from Sugar Grove, Ohio so I loved seeing this support come from my home state! 

– MAJ Kimberly Spires

The intersecting journeys of tiny seeds, a curious scientist, some enterprising entrepreneurs and Christmas tree farmers, and many soldiers have produced a yield of commerce, tradition and some holiday spirit.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Solomon, the author of Proverbs, understood our lives, farms, careers, faith, relationships are all built upon journeys. In fact, the specifics of the very first Christmas would not have transpired without several daunting, challenging journeys. Especially this time of year, with many of our personal journeys ending and others just beginning, our lives can often connect in wonderful ways. No matter what it’s final yield, all the beauty, bounty and wonder of a truly incredible journey cannot exceed that of the faith required to begin it.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Ohio Ag Net and Ohio’s Country Journal.

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