Saturday, May 18, 2024

Ashe County farm provides Christmas tree to White House

How did Cline Church Nursery top the experience of delivering a Christmas tree to Vice President Kamala Harris last year? This year, the Ashe County business expects to present a 19-foot Fraser fir to first lady Jill Biden for display in the Blue Room as the official White House centerpiece to holiday decorations.

“It’s such an honor,” says Amber Scott. “It’s the White House’s tree. It’s the people’s tree. It belongs to everybody.” Scott and younger brother, Alex Church, share the distinction of growing the White House tree at the business started by their parents, Cline and Ellen Church, in the early 1970s.

The brother and sister have two children each, all four in Ashe County elementary schools. “We get to take our children and our families to the White House, which is so cool,” says Scott. (Violet Scott, 10, and Annabelle Scott, 7, go to Westwood Elementary School in West Jefferson. Sawyer Church, 10, and Jackson Church, 8, go to Mountain View Elementary). 

Cline Church Nursery felled the selected tree on its approximate 700-acre Christmas tree farm in Fleetwood on Nov. 15 with the help of a crane-like boom truck. Traditionally, the donated tree gets delivered to the White House by horse-drawn carriage in a televised ceremony seen by millions.

Getting picked to provide the White House tree involves more than luck. “It’s a competition,” says Jennifer Greene, director of the N.C. Christmas Tree Association. “Most people don’t realize that.” Church and Scott first had to win the state competition. Their peers at the National Christmas Tree Association picked their tree as grand champion at the competition held this summer in Minnesota, giving Church and Scott the honor of providing a Christmas tree to the White House.

Cline Church Nursery family with selection of White House Christmas tree in background at Ashe County farm.

North Carolina farmers have now sent a Christmas tree to the White House a record 15 times since 1966. Cartner’s Christmas Tree Farm in Avery County will receive the honor in 2024, having already won grand champion in the biennial competition.

White House chief usher Robert Downing and grounds superintendent Dale Haney picked the tree on a visit to the Cline Church Nursery in October. “They said it fit the theme of the White House decorations this year,” says Scott. The tree has a nice shape and blue-green color. She says it’s 11½-foot wide.

The Cline Family Nursery planted the seedling of the chosen tree in 2004, which means it likely started out as a seed in 2000, Scott says. Twenty-three years is a long time, says Scott, but even a 7-foot Christmas tree bought retail is likely 12 years old.

Their parents planted seedlings in the early 1970s and harvested their first Christmas trees in 1981, Scott says.

“My (younger) brother could drive any piece of equipment on the farm by the time he was 12,” says Scott.

They are not new to the competition, either. Two years ago, the siblings were runner-ups in the contest, which meant they delivered the Christmas tree to Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband. “They were very gracious hosts,” says Scott.

Alex and Ashley Church, with their children, Sawyer, 10, and Jackson, 8. In 2022, the presented a Christmas tree to Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff.

The vice president also bought an additional 24 trees – at retail prices, along with wreaths and garland from the nursery. “We got to go see all of our trees decorated on the property. It was beautiful,” she says.

Christmas trees represent big business in North Carolina, says Greene, with the state association. In 2017, which represents the last figures available, some 850 Christmas tree farmers sold about $86 million worth of trees wholesale. Those numbers are based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture census, when trees were selling at about $21 wholesale. Current wholesales prices are more than double that, Greene says. New figures based on 2022 sales should be available in early 2024.

The Cline-family business sells trees at its nursery but expects to sell up to 65,000 Christmas trees this year wholesale. The second-generation of the business gets the White House win, Scott says, but the founders – who are in their 60s and still active in the business – deserve the glory.

Amber and Josh Scott and their children, Violet, 10, and Annabelle, 7. In 2022, they presented a Christmas tree from Cline Church Nursery to Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff.

 “We competed for it, but we’re still riding the coattails of our parents who put in many years of blood, sweat and tears for us and built this business.”


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