While Rusty and Beau Estes certainly deserve all the credit for producing a Fraser fir suitable to grace the White House at Christmas, a bit of North Carolina Cooperative Extension traveled with the tree to the nation’s capital.
Indeed, there’s another link in addition to Cooperative Extension from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to Peak Farm in Ashe County. Beau Estes, who with his father, Rusty, operates Peak Farm, is a graduate of the Agricultural Institute.
While Travis Birdsell, the Cooperative Extension agent who now works with Christmas tree growers in Ashe County, is somewhat new to Peak Farms (Birdsell was hired just three months ago) Cooperative Extension is not.
“We work through our local county Extension agent and NC State University,” says Rusty. We’ve done work in the spring with herbicides, testing different rates, with deer repellents and in other areas.
“It helps me manage my farm, and it’s helping all the other farmers, so I’m glad to help out. Any time you can get information that helps you have a better product and save money, it’s well worth it.”
Being selected to provide the White House Christmas tree is a bit like competing in a tournament.
“Each year, the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association has a tree contest, and if you win your state association, you get to go and compete in the national contest against other states,” Rusty explains. “You win there, you get the right to present the tree to the White House.”
After a winner is named, the White House picks the tree.
“The white house staff, they’ve got four different folks who come down and they walk through the trees” and pick one for the Blue Room in the White House.
For Rusty Estes, 2012 represents the second year he’s provided the White House Christmas tree. He also provided the first family’s tree in 2008.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provided a truck to carry the Peak Farms tree to Washington, and it was loaded with five North Carolina trees in all. In addition to the Blue Room tree, Peak Farms also provided a tree that will grace the White House grounds, while Cool Springs Nursery, owned by brothers Mark and Paul Smith in Avery County, provided three trees for Vice President Joe Biden’s home. The Smith brothers took second place in the national tree contest.
Like Rusty Estes, the Smiths are appreciative of the role Cooperative Extension plays in aiding their operations.
Paul Smith was quoted in an article in the Avery Journal-Times newspaper as crediting his family’s success in the Christmas tree industry in part to the guidance of Avery County Cooperative Extension.
“Really and truly, we could not grow these great trees without people like Doug Hundley (Extension Integrated Pest Management technician in Avery) and Extension teaching us and helping us to grow. It is a real tribute to government and education,” Smith was quoted as saying. “I started growing trees 30 years ago and knew nothing. Doug Hundley has been very patient teaching me how to grow trees and has helped us out a tremendous amount. We really owe a lot to all those guys over there. We also appreciate Avery County. It is a great tree growing area and a great tradition.”
In addition to the honor of being named the nation’s top Christmas tree grower, Rusty, Beau and their families get to tour the White House, see their tree decked out for the season and meet First Lady Michelle Obama.
“You get some recognition for what you do with your work,” says Rusty. “And probably as a tree farmer, there’s no higher recognition.”
— Dave Caldwell