They're real, and they're spectacular: Christmas tree farms enjoying renaissance

Christmas tree farms around Ontario are reporting a banner year for tree sales, with more people looking to celebrate with real trees rather than artificial varieties.

More and more people trading in plastic trees for the real deal, sellers say

Ian and Christine Thomas say Christmas tree sales at their tree farm are up as much as 10 per cent this year. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Christmas tree farms around Ontario are reporting a banner year, with more people looking to celebrate the season with real trees instead of artificial ones.

Christine and Ian Thomas, owners of Thomas Tree Farm in North Gower, said sales are up between five and 10 per cent this year.

"This year I noticed a lot of first-time buyers," Christine Thomas said. "I think a lot of it has to do with environmental concerns, more and more people don't want to put plastic trees up in their home that end up in a landfill."

According to Statistics Canada, the sale of Christmas trees pulled in $77.6 million in gross revenue across the country in 2016, and interest in real trees is only continuing to grow. 

Shirley Brennan, executive director of Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario, said more people, including an influx of millennials, are looking for the experience of going to a tree farm and toting the tree home themselves. 

Everyone can share in this experience and this celebration, whatever their reasoning is.- Shirley Brennan

"We're seeing new couples, we're seeing friends getting together," she said. "They may all live together in an apartment or a house and they want to start this new tradition."

Immigrants, some of whom are celebrating a Canadian Christmas for the first time, are contributing to the boom.

"We're also seeing new Canadians coming out as well," she said. "Everybody can share in this experience and this celebration, whatever their reasoning is."

Environmental choice

Michael Rosen, president of environmental group Tree Canada, pointed out artificial trees come at a high environmental cost. 

"There's a lot of carbon expended in the transportation and the production of artificial trees because they're composed of PVC," he said. "All those things are not wonderful for your health."

The city is proposing to consolidate its existing two bylaws for municipally owned trees and for trees on private properties. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Every acre at a Christmas tree farm produces enough oxygen for 18 people a year, soaks up carbon dioxide, and even forms a habitat for small animals, Brennan said. 

When the times comes for farmed Christmas trees to be cut, they've often been growing for eight to 10 years.

For tree buyer Nancy Macleod, that matters. She said many people are "becoming a lot more aware of what's going on" when it comes to the environment.  

Howard Norton and his daughter Erin look for a real Christmas tree to take home from the Fallowfield Tree Farm. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Erin Norton, who was looking for a perfect tree at the Fallowfield Tree Farm, believes the desire to go green is behind the renewed popularity of real trees.

"A lot of the new trees are plastic and a lot of people are moving away from that," she said. 

Reusing trees

Once trees have been cut, their environmental journey isn't necessarily over. 

There are lots of ways real trees can be recycled or reused once their run as a holiday decoration is up, Rosen said. 

"I've made bird feeders out of them by drilling holes in them and packing them with suet," he said. "You can take them and put them in your backyard and make them into a mini wildlife habitat."

Rosen says Christmas trees are biodegradable and can be reused in many ways. (Patrick Louiseize/Radio-Canada)

Many municipalities also offer Christmas tree recycling programs, which reuse trees in a variety of ways. 

Ottawa collects at least some of the used trees for the National Capital Commission, which uses them as windbreakers on the Rideau Canal Skateway and at other Winterlude sites. 

The remainder are put into a chipper and used in the "compost process," according to the city. 

If for no other reason, Thomas said getting out there and seeking a real tree can provide much-needed family time.

"I think more and more families are so busy, carving out together time to spend with your friends and loved ones doing something in the outdoors is valuable time."