Christmas tree shortage hits Upper Valley fundraisers, but not enough to dampen holiday cheer

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    Matthew Fay, of Lebanon, N.H., carries a newly-purchased Christmas tree while shopping with his fiancee Johanna Evans, right, at Troop 279's annual sale at Colburn Park in Lebanon on Dec. 4, 2021. Evans' son Finn Danaher carries a cut-off piece of the tree's trunk for a future project. They are repeat customers to the scouts' sale. "They have the best trees and the best prices," Evans said. The fundraiser continues on Dec. 5 and Dec. 11-12. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Geoff Hansen

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    Scouts Victor Nusyoka, 13, of West Lebanon, N.H., center, and siblings Bennett, 12, and Molly Russell, 14, of Lebanon, help organize trees for sale by Troop 279 at Colburn Park in Lebanon on Dec. 4, 2021. The trio are all new to scouting. "It's fun," Nusyoka said. "I like the activities, especially camping." The troop's tree sale continues on Dec. 5 and Dec. 11-12. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • As Liz Freeman, 17, of Lebanon, N.H., stabilizes a Balsam Christmas tree, Jack Hebert, 14, also of Lebanon, cuts the end off the trunk for a customer during Troop 279's annual sale at Colburn Park in Lebanon on Dec. 4, 2021. The sale continues on Dec. 5 and Dec. 11-12. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2021 6:21:42 AM
Modified: 12/5/2021 6:21:14 AM

LEBANON — Teams of Scouts held up Christmas trees side by side so customers at Colburn Park could make an informed purchase. After they closed a sale, they made sure to saw the bottom off the trunk so it could absorb water well after their customers set it up at home.

The Lebanon Scouts’ efforts were appreciated.

“We found other places, but they were too overwhelming in number, and the size made them more expensive,” said Wally Smith, who had arrived from South Strafford with his wife, Barbara, to buy a tree. The Scouts do not tack on a surcharge for a taller tree. All Fraser firs cost $55 and all balsam firs $45, up a few dollars from last year.

This year, like many purveyors of Christmas trees, Troop 279 has had to navigate a supply shortage. They ordered 125 trees from Nichols Tree Farm in Orford, and at first they could only pick up 90. Next week, though, they’ll be able to top off their stock. They also had to pay more for their trees than in years past, although they only raised their prices by a few dollars.

“I really like getting together with the other Scouts,” said Scout Liz Freeman, 17. “And it helps the larger community. Our trees are in the budget range, so more can afford them.”

As it is her family’s tradition to keep the tree up until the end of the January, her mother, Maureen McNulty, assured that trees bought from the Lebanon Scouts hold their needles for weeks.

The sale is the troop’s largest fundraiser and helps the Scouts go camping throughout the year, Lamontagne said. Last summer, they went to the White Mountains where “it rained and it rained.” The Scouts learned to put up tarps and set fires in the rain without a complaint, he said. In February, they’ll be camping in the snow for their “Klondike Derby.”

Lebanon Scouts have been selling Christmas trees in Colburn Park, on and off, for over 30 years. And they aren’t the only Upper Valley organization navigating the tree shortage as they carry on a longtime tradition. 

In Huse Park on Saturday, the Enfield Mascoma Lions Club manned a white pavilion stocked with an abundance of trees and wreaths. Lions have been selling trees annually since the gray-bearded attendants were children, and likely longer, said Nick Felix, local club president.

“We give it all back to the community,” said Felix, who comes from a family of committed Lions. In years past, the Lions Club supported everything from the Upper Valley Haven and a nearby playground to a Halloween haunted trail.

They bought 600 trees from Canada and paid about 10% more than normal.

That’s a bargain this year by national standards. In other regions, prices have climbed as much as 30%. Heat waves and wildfires hit tree farms in Oregon and Washington hard this year, the AP reported.

“They are like any other agricultural markets,” explained Jim Horst, a tree farmer and the executive director of the New Hampshire-Vermont Christmas Tree Association. “Farmers don’t plant as much when prices are low, and they plant too much when high,” he said. Eight or 10 years ago, prices for trees were low, so he theorized that farmers did not plant as many trees. As that is about how long it takes to grow a Christmas tree, now customers will feel the pinch of decade-old planting decisions. The wholesale market is tight, but cut-your-own should be available in robust supply, Horst said.

In line with the Enfield Lions’ rate, Horst estimates that prices are about 10% higher than last year in the Northeast, and there are many factors at play.

“Nature has her way of being a partner to you,” Horst said.

This year, Horst’s Mt. Anthony Tree Farms in Pownal, Vt., had almost too much rain, but his transplants still fared well. Meanwhile, his friend on the New Hampshire Seacoast, which was hit harder by drought this summer than other parts of the Twin States, struggled without the rain growers need in the weeks after they first plant trees.

And high fuel prices and scarce labor mean that farmers have had to spend more to bring their trees to market. “Farmers have had to increase prices to keep their profit margin the way it was,” he said.

“People are tired of COVID,” he added. “They want to get outside. They want to get back to normal. And so there’s a little higher price.”

For Horst, a former economist, it is “just supply and demand.”

“If I were looking for a tree, I wouldn’t wait until Dec. 18 because you might not find much,” he warned. “But this coming weekend and the next — there’s not an abundance, but a decent selection.”

Meanwhile, Horst is celebrating his 50th year in the tree business, and he recommends it — especially to dairy farmers. He transitioned his family farm out of the dairy industry because of low milk prices.

“It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he said. After all, it takes eight to 10 years to get your first paycheck. “But it’s a fun way to make a living as far as I’m concerned.”

The Enfield Mascoma Lions Club will be selling Christmas trees and wreaths at Huse Park on weekends from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m and weekdays from noon to 8 p.m. until Dec. 19. Troup 279 will be selling trees Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., next Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and next Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. But their website warns: “Supplies are limited — we’ll post on our website when we’re sold out!”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727- 3242.




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