The choose-and-cut Christmas tree season recently kicked off at a Warren County farm that produced this year’s Grand Champion in the annual contest held by the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association.
New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher was joined by Freeholder Director Jason J. Sarnoski, state Agriculture Board member Mitchell Jones, and representatives of the Christmas tree growers association at Evergreen Valley Tree Farm, where the Alpaugh family took them on a tractor-drawn hayride to select a tree.
In the photo, marking “Jersey Grown Christmas Tree Day” with a state proclamation are (l-r) Chris Nicholson, president of the NJ Christmas Tree Growers Association, NJ Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher, the Alpaugh family – Andy and Sara, their kids Sam and Kate, and patriarch Les Alpaugh – NJ Agriculture Board member Mitchell Jones, and Warren County Freeholder Director Jason J. Sarnoski.
After sawing down a tree that the Alpaugh family will donate to the Christmas Trees for New Jersey Military Families program, Fisher noted that Gov. Chris Christie had proclaimed the date as “Jersey Grown Christmas Tree Day” to promote the state’s fresh tree industry and show appreciation for the military during this holiday season. The New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association, a statewide group organized in 1950, is collecting 100 trees to donate to members of the New Jersey National Guard and their families.
“As we enter this season of New Jersey agritourism, we encourage people to visit choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms to find their perfect tree and enjoy the experience with their families, making lasting memories,” Secretary Fisher said. “This also is a time of giving, so we applaud the Christmas tree growers for their generosity and hope state residents will remember to help those in need this holiday season,” he added.
It has been a long-standing tradition that the kick-off of the choose-and-cut Christmas tree season takes place at the Grand Champion’s farm.
Evergreen Valley Tree Farm, located on Jackson Valley Road a short distance from Warren Hills Regional High School, won the 2016 New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association annual contest with a blue spruce that 10-year-old Sam Alpaugh and his grandfather, Les, selected. The 145-acre farm was started by the Alpaugh family in 2003 and is run by Les and his son and daughter-in-law, Andy and Sara; while their children Sam and Kate, 8, are the third generation helping out. They have been selling trees since 2009, and have 10,000 trees available this season, offering Fraser, Douglas, Concolor and Canaan Firs, Norway and Blue Spruces, and White Pine.
“We grow Christmas trees year-round and this is a business we take great pride in,” Andy Alpaugh remarked. “We work throughout the year to maintain our crop and expand it when needed, and we love seeing families come out to our farm and engage in an activity together.”
Freeholder Director Sarnoski said the County is proud of the Alpaugh family for winning the statewide contest and praised their farm operation. Sarnoski noted that Warren farmers always “do a great job” with Christmas trees, pointing out that 10 of the last 12 Grand Champion trees have come from Warren County farms.
Local farmers have dubbed Warren County “the Christmas Tree Belt” as soils and climate make the area a particularly good place to grow Christmas trees. Moreover, many of the farms offer related items – wreaths, roping, grave blankets, tree stands – as well as ornaments and holiday gifts. Encouraging people to make their hunt for a Christmas tree a fun day in the country, some of the farms offer hot chocolate or cider, cookies, and even visits from Santa.
The Warren County freeholders and the Explore Warren County Tourism Partnership, a program of the county’s Public Information Department, are encouraging visits to the Christmas Tree Belt by providing a page on the website www.ExploreWarren.org with information about the choose-and-cut farms in Warren County, including links to each farm’s website. The website also includes an events calendar listing holiday happenings and other activities throughout the county, so that visitors can plan their day.
Almost 69,000 trees are cut in New Jersey each year, according to the NJ Department of Agriculture, and the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture ranked the state seventh in the nation in the number of Christmas tree growers, with 809 farms that grow more than 4,500 acres of Christmas trees.
Christmas tree growers in New Jersey may participate in the Jersey Grown program, which allows farmers to tag their trees with the Jersey Grown brand to easily identify that their locally-grown trees meet quality standards. Jersey Grown is similar to the well-known Jersey Fresh branding program for produce and other agricultural products.