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NY agriculture dept. promotes local, farm-fresh Christmas trees

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball (center) at the Rocking Horse Farm.

Local and state officials are promoting farm-fresh Christmas trees this holiday season. It’s an $8 million industry in New York State and the trees are also good for the environment.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball helped cut down an 8-foot Canaan fir at the Rocking Horse Farm in Jamesville.

“These are family farms that support a local economy," Ball said. "Is there a better way to celebrate going local than coming out to a farm this time of year and finding your Christmas tree?”

Keith Liebmann, who owns the farm with his wife Julie, sells between 500-700 trees a year.

“Most people come out, it’s a fresh cut tree, we put a fresh cut on it and give them instructions how to keep the tree alive," Liebmann said. "Our trees will typically last into January without dropping needles.”

He recommends keeping it watered and away from heat vents.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
The Canaan fir made its way to the Central New York Welcome Center at Destiny USA.

It’s a year-round job to care for the trees. It takes about 8-10 years for the trees to reach harvest size. Stephanie Kelly with the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of New York said besides the pruning and shearing, there’s cleaning up after winter, planting in the spring, looking for pests and dealing with drought in the summer. 

“They put all that elbow grease into it all year so that in December, we can tramp out here and find that perfect tree,” Kelly said.

She added it is also about the tradition.

“A lot of people go out and do their family photo shoot in the Christmas tree farm," Kelly said. "You have a cup of hot chocolate together and you build those memories for your kids for when they’re bigger and they have those traditions to look back on for their own kids.”

There are environmental benefits, said David Skeval, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension. Every year, an acre of Christmas tree land takes 500 lbs of carbon out of the atmosphere. And the trees provide habitats for animals like turkeys.

“Especially in the springtime, you’ll see the hens come in with their little chickies and they’ll peck around and it’s a good place for them to be," Skeval said. "It’s good for wildlife, good for the environment, good for soil stabilization and it adds a little something to the economy and a lot of joy to people’s lives.”  

Onondaga County is number one in New York State for cutting down your own tree with 36,000 trees sold each year.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.