From Farm to Family: Going Back to My Roots for the Holidays

Born on a Christmas Tree farm, Luke Kintigh finds and decorates his 2018 tree

My bedside alarm rings at 6:45am. It’s late November, a crisp 30 degrees outside. Snow falls on acres of Christmas trees with the peaks of the Oregon Coast Range in the backdrop. It’s a scene from a holiday greeting card. All that’s missing is Santa and his reindeer.

But there’s no time to be nostalgic. It’s time to get up to report for duty at my family’s Christmas tree farm. November’s harvest embodies crunch time for Christmas tree farmers. Demand is high. Orders are being filled. Trees are in transport. It’s go time, as it has been every winter of my life growing up the farm with sap on my hands and needles in my boots.

Contrary to what most believe, winter is not the only time Christmas tree farmers are busy. In between football workouts and practices, my summers were spent getting the trees ready for harvest. I helped with tasks that ranged from counting and measuring trees for inventory to trimming and fertilizing them to sustain their growth and shape. In the spring, I would often plant new trees to replace the ones cut in the previous winter.

My family farm is one of 750 wholesale Christmas tree farms in Oregon. As the nation’s top producer of Christmas trees, Oregonians harvest over 6 million trees a year—many of them within 60 miles from Intel’s Hillsboro offices.

 

A White House Christmas Tree

It’s no wonder why Oregon is the Mecca of Christmas trees in the U.S. In fact the 2018 White House Christmas tree hails from Oregon. This honor was shared by my family when I was eight years old. I’ll never forget this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Standing with my family on the white house lawn, while Mr. and Mrs. Bush landed in Marine One. They warmly greeted us and then ceremoniously turned on the lights of our giant 25-foot tree, topped with a large gold star.

Our Presidential visit was capped off with a tea party with the First Lady, Barbara Bush. I’d never seen so many cookies in my life. When Mrs. Bush asked me what my favorite was, I had trouble deciding, but responded with the peanut butter chocolate chip. After our two-hour visit with the First Lady, I was struck by how much excitement surrounded the celebration—reporters were outside and tourists were taking pictures—all with our Christmas tree at the centerpiece of it all.

After our trip, I felt the significance of what my family worked so hard to grow. It was so much more than thousands of nicely trimmed Noble and Douglas fir trees. The Christmas tree, our tree, symbolized a shared experience of joy, remembrance and hope. I was overwhelmed with pride that my family helped deliver this special moment to so many, including the President of the United States.

Connecting My Past and Present

Fast-forward to today. While my job as an HR marketing manager at Intel is as far as it could be from the duties of a tree farmer, my roots are not far away from my office–about 90 minutes in fact. But for all the differences, there are also similarities. At work, I’m a storyteller, so I thought it was time I told the story of a tree and address a question I often get after telling colleagues I grew up on a Christmas tree farm— how do you pick the perfect tree?

The Journey of a Christmas Tree: From the Farm to the Family Living Room

I’m going to take you to my family farm to go inside my journey of finding and garnishing the perfect tree. By the end of this four-step journey, I promise that you’ll be a Christmas tree expert.

Stop 1: To the Farm I Go

Seatbelt on, coffee mug in my cup holder and a full tank of gas. I’m ready to take a trip to my family farm. About 90 minutes later I arrive to a scene of trees being loaded onto trucks and the sounds of chainsaws in the midst of harvest. It was time to comb the endless lots of trees for perfect green triangle that would later end up in my living room.

As I get out of the car, I stare at hundreds of noble fir trees that are eligible to take home. Up the hill I go to find the right one for my living room. My eyes are peeled for the tree calling my name.

So what makes an impeccable Christmas tree? Here are the five things I’m looking for in a tree:

  • Species: Know what type of tree you want. I like a sturdy and layered tree, so I opt for a noble or Turkish fir. Conversely, a pencil shaped tree can be found in a Douglas fir.
  • Shape: Watch out for branches that extend too far and dents in the tree structure that detract from its natural triangle shape.
  • Even Coloration: A healthy tree will have an even color from top to bottom. If you see discrepancies in the color of the needles in the tree, move on to the another one.
  • Vertical Top (Leader): Look for a straight leader, which is the top branch of the tree. This will bode well for putting an angel or star on the top and the visual appeal of your tree.
  • Secure Needles and Branches: If you see any areas of the tree that are losing needles, it will only get worse as it’s in your living room. Stay away from these trees.

After 30 minutes of searching, I stumble upon the winner! The sun shines upon a seven-foot noble fir from the heavens! I knew she was mine as soon as I laid eyes on her. The tree had all of the above attributes, especially an excellent leader. All that was left to do was to cut this beauty down.

Stop 2: Taking it Home

The chainsaw roars. Ten seconds later, my tree is on the ground, ready to go to the baler (below), which is a device that tightly wraps trees to allow for easy delivery. Balers make it so trees take up less space and are less likely to be broken in transport.

Once baled, my tree is all set to be loaded into my car. I open my hatch, put down my backdoor seats, and hoist my tree into my vehicle. It’s time to take this tree home to my family.

Stop 3: Putting it in the Stand

I’m back at my home. I soon take the tree out of the car, cut the rope from the baler and get the stand ready in the living room. After a couple of adjustments, the tree is secure and straight in its new indoor place. After taking a tree home, it’s always a good idea to cut an inch off the trunk so your tree can better absorb water when it’s in its stand.

Stop 4: Decorating the Tree

Now the real fun begins. We start with stringing the lights on the tree. Once evenly distributed, it’s time for the classic red ribbon to be wrapped throughout the branches. Finally, we hang the ornaments from top to bottom. This is the stage where my kids get excited by hanging everything with a hook on our tree. After my wife and I make the proper corrections, our tree is ready to be inaugurated and shown off (see below).

For more behind the scenes coverage, watch this video for my step by step farm to family journey:

I wish you and your family happy holidays! I hope this story gave your Christmas tree acumen a boost. Use the comment section below to ask any questions you may have. I’d love to answer them.

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