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Rusty and Beau Estes, owners of Peak Farms, have earned the right to present an 18 1/2 foot Fraser fir to the White House for display in “The Blue Room.” The selected White House Christmas tree began its life from seed in 1990 when George H. Bush was President. There have been three additional presidents since that time and the tree is now 22 years old.
Rusty Estes has been involved in the Christmas tree industry since 1979, starting with only 200 trees in the ground and a retail lot in Lenoir, North Carolina. Rusty began growing Christmas trees on the side while working as a golf course superintendent in Avery county where he says, “the winters were tougher and the ground was harder.” Rusty owned a Christmas tree retail lot for 15 years before selling out and moving to Ashe County, North Carolina with his wife Ann and two children, Beau Estes and Katirie Estes.
Beau graduated from North Carolina State University in 2002, and started working in the golf course industry. Beau moved back to Ashe County in 2003 and began his full-time career in Christmas trees. He married Amanda Korevec, who now teaches 1st grade at Blue Ridge Elementary School. They have two sons, Colin Estes and Riley Estes.
Rusty and Beau have seen many changes in the Christmas tree industry, but one thing that remains the same is their dedication to education. Peak Farms collaborates with North Carolina Cooperative Extension who conducts research projects on their farm that have potential impacts, not only for them, but the entire industry. They also work to educate youth about Christmas trees. Every year local first graders make a trip to Peak Farms to learn about the benefits of Christmas trees. The children also place tags on harvested trees requesting the city and state of each buyer. The children then begin their mapping project showing where every tagged tree has been shipped. Students leave Peak Farms with their own tree that they can plant at their home.
“We haven’t done this on our own. We had a lot of help getting started with what to do, when to do, and how to do. We greatly appreciate everyone who has helped us along the way.” Rusty Estes, Peak Farms
River Ridge Tree Farms of Ashe County was named Grand Champion Fraser Fir Farm at the Summer Meeting of the NC Christmas Tree Association in August 2007. The growers Jessie Davis and Rusty Estes then represented North Carolina in the Summer 2008 National Christmas Tree contest held in Des Moines Iowa. They entered an 8 ft. Fraser Fir and won the Blue Ribbon for the True Fir category and were also named Grand Champion Growers of all species. This is the 3rd time in the last four years that a North Carolina farm has won this award and the second straight win for Ashe County. North Carolina growers have won this National honor 11 times – almost twice as much as the next closest state. Jessie Davis and Rusty Estes of River Ridge Tree Farms were in attendance to receive the Grand Champion ribbon and were very excited to receive this award. As a result of the win, they presented an 18.5-foot NC Fraser Fir to First lady Laura Bush in November 2008. This tree will be displayed in the White House Blue Room to be viewed by all visitors to the White House during the Christmas Season.
River Ridge Tree Farms was founded in 1983 by Jessie Davis and his father in law Joe Pennington. After Joe passed away in 2003, Rusty Estes became a partner along with Jessie’s mother in law Carol Pennington. Rusty has been growing trees since 1979 and was a great a great addition to the River Ridge Team. River Ridge Farms has trees planted in locations throughout northwest North Carolina as well as southwest Virginia. The tree to be presented to the White House will be chosen from a field of trees that were planted in 1985 by Jessie and Joe on one of their original farms in Creston, N.C. Jessie said that it was fitting that one of the Trees that Joe help plant would be going to Washington to represent the nation. He said that he was sure that Joe would be very proud of this accomplishment and achievement and that this honor was equivalent to winning the Super Bowl.
North Carolina is once again White House bound for Christmas. For the 10th time since 1966, when the tradition began, North Carolina will have the honor of presenting a REAL Christmas tree – a perfect Fraser fir - to the First Lady for display in the White House Blue Room. Christmas Tree Grower Joe Freeman & wife Linda will make their coveted journey to Washington the week after Thanksgiving with a tree from their Ashe county farm.
Joe & Linda won this honor by winning the Grand Champion title at the National Christmas Tree contest held in Portland Oregon in 2006. To be eligible to enter a tree at the National competition in Portland, Joe first won the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association state contest.
Joe currently grows Fraser fir Christmas Trees at Mistletoe Meadows, his 130 acre farm in Laurel Springs North Carolina, approximately 5 miles from the Blue Ridge parkway where he currently has approximately 100,000 trees planted. He also has additional tree farms in Virginia and in Moore county N.C. Wholesale customers include retailers, garden centers and fund raising groups. Joe owns and operates a retail lot in Asheboro N.C. during the retail selling season.
Mistletoe Meadows produces approximately 15,000 wreaths in 12 sizes each Christmas Season. Joe is a member of the North Carolina Christmas tree association, National Christmas Tree Association, Ashe County Christmas Tree Growers Association, Mt Rogers Christmas tree Growers Association, & Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Joe was the NCCTA Grand champion Wreath maker in 1992, 1994, 1996 & 2002. He grew the NCCTA Grand champion Tree in 2001. He also took top honors for the National grand champion Wreath in 1998 and 2004.
Members of the White House staff will visit Joe’s farm in October to hand pick this years selection. The tree will be cut in late November and transported to Washington D.C. for a formal presentation to First Lady Laura Bush. The tree will be decorated by the White house floral department staff and volunteers.
Glorious white lilies, crystal spheres and light-catching garlands accented this 2005’s official White House Christmas tree. The theme: “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. The 18-foot Fraser fir was presented to President and Mrs. Bush by Earl, Betsy, Buddy and Meg Deal from the Smokey Holler Tree Farm in Laurel Springs, North Carolina. The Deals won this honor by being named the 2005 National Grand Champion Growers by the National Christmas Tree Association.
Since the beginning of the program established by the National Christmas Tree Association in 1966, a North Carolina tree has won the competition nine times and received the honor of being displayed in the Blue Room of the White House – this is more times than any other state. This is the top honor for any Christmas tree grower and Earl Deal stated that he has been waiting 30 years for this to happen.
The Blue Room Christmas Tree was handpicked by White House Chief Usher Gary Walters and Grounds Foreman Mike Lawn on October 20, 2005. The tree was cut in late November and sent to Washington, D.C. The White House staff also selected two beautiful North Carolina Fraser Fir Christmas Trees for the White House Oval Office and the Bush family's private residence. "The last time a Christmas tree from North Carolina was displayed in the White House was in 1997," Gary Walters said. "This beautiful Fraser fir from the Deal family is the perfect tree to continue this long-standing White House tradition."
An active member of both NCTA and the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association for more than 30 years, Earl credits both associations with providing him with many learning opportunities that have contributed to his success. "We had tagged this one hoping it would be the one picked," Earl Deal said, referring to the Fraser fir selected as the 2005 Blue Room Tree. "This is a dream come true. I think every Christmas tree grower hopes that they will someday provide a tree to the White House, but it's still hard to believe that it will ever happen to you."
Achieving this honor was no easy feat for the Deals. In order to be eligible to enter the National Contest, they first had to compete in the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association competition. The Deals' Fraser fir then competed against 22 other entries at the national competition in Lake Harmony, Penn., in order to earn the opportunity to present the Blue Room Tree for display in the White House. But the family agrees that it was worth all the time and effort involved. "There is no higher honor in this business," Earl said.
Earl first began planting Christmas Trees as a hobby in Blowing Rock in 1972 with his cousin and college roommate. At a NC Christmas Tree Association meeting later that year, they met a gentleman wanting to sell a stand of trees in Laurel Springs. Looking at these trees in a very dense fog, they thought the trees looked great and a deal was made. When the sun came out, those trees looked a little worse than they had on that foggy day back in the hollow – thus the name Smokey Holler. At the time, he was employed with the Department of Wood and Paper Science at North Carolina State University, while Betsy taught with the Wake County School System. For a number of years, the Deal family commuted from their home in Raleigh to the farm in Laurel Springs on weekends and vacations to care for the trees. Upon the couple's retirement, they became permanent residents of Laurel Spring and full-time Christmas tree growers.
The Christmas trees grown at Smokey Holler Tree Farm are sold wholesale to retailers along the East Coast, from Miami to Long Island, and across the Midwest. In addition, the family sells wreaths, garlands and roping; operates retail lots in the Raleigh-Durham area; and runs a Choose & Cut Christmas Tree farm on part of their property. The couple's son, Buddy, helps manage the farm operations, while their daughter, Meg, serves as the certified public accountant for the business and helps out during harvest time. Over the years Smokey Holler has branched out to not only grow trees such as Fraser fir, White pine, Blue spruce, Concolor fir, Norway spruce, and Canaan fir, but they also do wreaths and roping to utilize low grade trees. Both Earl and Buddy emphasize that they branched out so as not to compromise the quality of the fresh Christmas trees from their farm. The Deal motto is displayed in their office: “Quality is in watching the details” and the family believes that if they take care of the details, the quality will come.
Betsy states that Earl teaches by example and demands hard work. Either he or Buddy is in the field daily with the crew. They actively participate and work with the crew in overseeing trees. Earl sees a large advantage in the fact that Buddy speaks Spanish fluently and can converse easily with the crew. Why all the working together? Earl states that his vision for the farm is to have the Deal “signature on their trees” and to have pride in the end product.
The presentation of the Blue Room Christmas Tree to the Mrs. Bush at the White House took place on Monday, Nov. 28, 2005. The tree was set up later that day and decorated by the White House Floral Department staff and volunteers. The Deal family was invited to return later in the afternoon to the White House to help decorate the tree and see it on display in the Blue Room. "This whole experience has been extremely humbling for our family," Earl said. "We feel that we are not only representing our farm but also the entire Christmas tree industry and we are so grateful for this opportunity."
|1971||Kermit Johnson||Avery County|
|1973||Homer & Bruner Sides||Alleghany County|
|1982||Hal & Sarah Johnson||Ashe County|
|1984||Hal & Sarah Johnson||Ashe County|
|1990||R. Bruce & Michael Lacey||Avery County|
|1993||Wayne Ayers||Mitchell County|
|1995||Ron Hudler & Danny Dollar||Ashe County|
|1997||Sanford Fishel||Ashe County|
|2005||Earl, Betsy, & Buddy Deal||Alleghany County|
|2007||Joe Freeman||Ashe County|
|2008||Jessie Davis & Rusty Estes||Ashe County|
Did you know that there hasn't always been a Christmas tree in the White House? In fact, the first time a tree was brought in and decorated at the presidential mansion was in 1856. This was when Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, was in office. It did not become an established tradition to have a tree until the 1880s.
When Theodore Roosevelt was in office, he banned Christmas trees from the White House because he thought that Christmas tree harvesting was depleting our National forests. His two young sons brought one into the White House and were sent to the most famous conservationist of his time, Gifford Pinchot, for a lecture. Mr. Pinchot defended the cutting of Christmas trees by saying that for every tree cut down, two are replanted, which actually replenished the forests.
The National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony began in 1923. President Calvin Coolidge started what has become an annual holiday observance on the White House lawn by lighting the first National Christmas tree.
One of the country's best known original tree growers was also a president. President Franklin D. Roosevelt helped to popularize the concept of growing Christmas trees on a plantation by growing Christmas trees on his estate in Hyde Park, NY, throughout the 1930s.
Every other year, the National Christmas Tree Association holds a Christmas Tree Competition. Winners of this competition provide the Christmas tree for the White House. The North Carolina Fraser fir has won this competition more than any other species.