Merritt woman becomes Christmas tree farmer amid supply shortage | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Merritt woman becomes Christmas tree farmer amid supply shortage

Leslee Lucy, from Merritt, started planting Christmas trees two years ago.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Leslee Lucy

Amid a provincewide shortage of Christmas trees, one Merritt farmer hopes to supply her community with trees in a few years.

Leslee Lucy started planting trees two years ago during the first COVID-19 Christmas on her property along Coldwater Road, south of the community.

“The tree that I had was so dead it wouldn’t suck up any water and we have seven acres. I threw a hissy fit when I threw it out and said ‘I’m just going to grow my own trees from now on.’”

She started researching and thought she could grow them for family and friends. Then, she realized she could grow them for the community as well. Lucy learned about Christmas tree farming through YouTube, and from her friends who had trees.

She planted 300 trees her first year but lost 60% of her crop with record-breaking heat in the valley. Tree farmers can expect to lose up to 30% of their trees in an average year.

Her second year, she provided more heat protection by leaving grass around the trees and bought 300 more, discovering balsam fir trees grow better than Douglas fir. She only lost 30% of her crop.

Rows of baby tress at Lucy’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Rows of baby tress at Lucy’s Christmas Tree Farm.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Leslee Lucy

“I really enjoy it. I absolutely love getting out there and working in the trees, there’s something soul satisfying working with these baby trees and watching them grow,” Lucy said.

Roughly 300 trees are remaining from the last two years but they won’t be ready for sale at Lucy’s Christmas Tree Farm for about four years.

“My idea is to get my farm up to 500 trees and then once I get going just to sell 100 a year just locally,” she said. “The idea is to provide local trees to family friends and the community I live in.”

She said there’s a need Christmas trees since last year there were hardly any trees in town after the historic flood and wildfire season.

“The only place that brings trees into Merritt was Save-On,” she said. Grocery stores will source trees from Alberta and the U.S.

With the region expected to be hotter with climate change, extreme temperatures will impact the trees but one of the best ways to deal with a warming climate is to plant trees, she said. 

“Environmentally, we’re not shipping trees all over the country, if we have little, local growers.”

There’s a “chronic shortage” of Christmas trees across the province as more farmers retire and it’s harder to get into the field with the price of land, said president Paul Huesken, of the B.C. Christmas Trees Association.

“For a lot of people, they just can’t see the economics of it and the fact you have to wait seven or eight years for crop,” he said.

He said grants and long-term low-interest loans could encourage people to get into farming.

“We live in a province where you go from fertile lush valleys to peak mountain sides and there isn’t that sort of marginal land that’s perfect for growing trees on,” Huesken said. “We have to get creative on our use of marginal lands.”

The tree association has roughly 100 members but not all tree farmers are part of it.

“We want to keep celebrating Christmas in the fashion in which were used to with trees. For a while there, artificial trees were becoming more popular and were impacting the market for real trees but I think most people think more about their carbon footprints. Artificial trees have a lot of oil and petroleum and plastic that is going to end up in the landfill for a really long time as opposed to a real tree,” Huesken said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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