It's Christmas in July, sort of.
While the White House Christmas Tree doesn't arrive in Washington until late November, tree farmers meet Friday in southwest Michigan to decide who among them gets to provide the tree that will sit in the Blue Room. For Christmas tree farmers, this contest is the pinnacle of their profession.
Growing trees is more than putting saplings in the ground and waiting years for it to grow. Tree farmers describe their profession like a Hollywood movie where a character must defuse a bomb: Does he snip the green wire or the red wire? Every decision to trim a stem or snip a needle could mean the difference between a losing or winning tree.
"Trees don't just look that way naturally," says Rick Dungey, the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association. "They go through this tree meticulously, branch by branch by branch. They snip off individual needles. Lord knows how many needles there are on an 8-foot-tall tree — probably thousands of them. And they go one at a time. When you see that, you realize what it takes to win this contest."
That contest will bring the 14 best tree growers from around the country together to showcase their best 6-to-8-foot trees, their fates in the hands of six industry professional judges and dozens of local consumers who rate on everything from shape and color to form and fullness. Growers must trim and shape trees, yes, but the tree must look natural and not look like it's been trimmed and shaped.