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.”