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Out on a limb this holiday? ‘Nobody ever goes shopping for a Christmas tree in a bad mood.’

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North End Organic Nursery
NEON owner Lindsay Schramm: "Every year, we seem to sell more trees earlier and earlier."

Yes, you can make the holidays a bit greener, starting with an organic Christmas tree. In a recent interview with NPR’s Here and Now, Dawn Gifford, author of “Sustainability begins at Home” said more consumers are looking to reduce their eco-footprint.

That was music to Lindsay Schramm’s ears, the owner of the North End Organic Nursery.

“The particular farm that we work with has really good sustainability practices that they apply to. And I like that they don't spray, they don't put down excessive amounts of fertilizer,” said Schramm. “These folks do a really good job of growing the most natural tree possible.”

Eco-friendly? Absolutely. But she’s quick to add that it’s also very personal.

“It's an investment into a tradition and a holiday and a memory.”

Schramm visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice during a rare break from what is turning out to be a particularly busy tree-shopping season.

“I absolutely love working in the Christmas tree lot this time of year because nobody ever goes shopping for a Christmas tree in a bad mood.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Well, here we are….still three weeks until Christmas, but if you have not secured a Christmas tree yet, you should probably shake a leg. Lindsay Schramm is here and it wouldn't be the holidays until we can spend some time with Lindsay, owner of the North End Organic Nursery. Full disclosure: the North End Organic Nursery is a supporter and underwriter of Boise State Public Radio. Lindsay, good morning.

LINDSAY SCHRAMM: Hi, how are you?

PRENTICE: I'm well. Happy early holiday to you, but I'm guessing that the holidays have arrived.

SCHRAMM: Oh, for sure. The day before Thanksgiving is when it starts these days.

PRENTICE: Let's get right into it. We have just turned the page. It's December. How's your inventory?

SCHRAMM: Inventory is getting slimmer. It's definitely a trend. Every year we seem to sell more trees earlier and earlier. So, as we get closer to Christmas, there's not a whole lot left.

PRENTICE: To the layperson. Could you describe Douglas Firs compared to those much coveted Nobles or Nordmanns?

SCHRAMM: Oh, I love that question, because talking about trees is really like talking about favorite flowers as well, because there's so many nuances about them and why people pick different ones. The Douglas fir is most loved for its smell. The smell of the Douglas fir is very unique and pungent. It has a super-duper Christmassy smell to it. You walk into the greenhouse where we keep the Douglas fir and it just it's the smell of Christmas. And that's not to say that, like you said, much coveted nobles and Normans don't have that smell, but it is a little more subdued. So people will definitely go for the Douglas to have that full Christmas smell to it. They tend to also have a softer branch in needle, which gives it kind of a nice, fluffy, kind of more muted look to it doesn't have quite the distinct needles as a Nordmann and Noble. It also tends to have slightly weaker branches. So, for those people who are looking for a tree that can hold those big heavy ornaments passed down for generations, it's probably not the best choice, but it is becoming increasingly popular. And surprisingly, we're selling out of those faster this year than we normally do.

PRENTICE: Why do people really love Nobles?

SCHRAMM: Nobles really have a very classic look to them. So, when you go to, well, let's say those who choose to look at fake trees, a lot of fake trees tend to be modeled after the noble fir. They have very clean kind of lines to them. The needles are very pointed at the ends. They're sort of round fluffed out succulent looking needles, not flat like the Nordmann or the Douglas. The branches tend to have some spacing between them. So, you can see they're very pretty bark in between the branches versus it being filled out with needles from top to bottom. They tend to be a little bit, at least the ones that we get in more slender and not quite as wide, which a lot of people also like. They want something that will fill their room from top to bottom, but not necessarily make it so you don't have any more walkways. So that's another nice thing about them. And lastly, they last a really long time. The downside of the Douglas fir is I tell people that when you're smelling all that delicious Christmas smell, you're actually smelling the tree dehydrate because it's aerosolized into the air. And so, with the noble, you still smell it, but it's not quite as much in it. It'll hold on to its moisture a little bit easier.

PRENTICE: I know when it comes to your sources, it's all about relationships. So how are your suppliers doing this year?

SCHRAMM: Yes. And I am so grateful that I have been able to continuously work with the same supplier now for four years in a row. And it's important for us not only because, as we've talked about in years past, it's sometimes hard to get a hold of a supplier to be able to sell to you. But also, the particular farm that we work with has a really good kind of docket of sustainability practices that they apply to. And I like that they don't spray, they don't put down excessive amounts of fertilizer. It's almost impossible to find a truly certified organic tree, but we vet our suppliers as much as we can, and these folks do a really good job of growing the most natural tree possible, which also means that when you bring your tree home, give it a good shake because there might be some things still alive. Okay, the occasional spider know, but that's a that's a good sign that the tree is not so toxic that nothing can live in it.

PRENTICE: So, let's talk about getting those trees home. And I think I've learned over the years from you that it's all about getting it in water ASAP.

SCHRAMM: That's correct. And one step further than that is getting it in water. Once it's been given a fresh cut and the time that you can shorten between the fresh cut and the submersion into water, the shorter that is, the better. And what we ideally want people to do is to bring that tree into a temperate space that's not indoor warm. So, a garage is an ideal place, or when the temperatures are nice enough outside, outside on a front porch, but then stick it in a bucket or a container of some kind with water and let it absorb water for approximately 12 to 24 hours before bringing it into the warmer, conditioned, drier air of your home. As soon as it enters the home, it starts to dehydrate quite quickly as it acclimates to those temperatures. And we want to frontload the hydration of that tree in a temperate environment after it's been freshly cut. So it kind of like sucks up a bunch of water in the beginning. And when it comes inside, it has a better chance of keeping up. Now, of course, it's super important once you get it inside to check your water well, 2 to 3 times a day for those first 3 to 4 days, because it will drink 60 to 70% of the water that it will drink and its entire lifespan inside your house within those first few days.

PRENTICE: And we put a….a splash of bleach in it?

SCHRAMM: I've done that in the past and I've heard some back and forth, kind of more kind of educated opinions about whether that's a good thing or bad thing. I've always done that in the past where I put a little bit of sugar and bleach into the water and the bleach just to kill the bacterial growth. What I've had some people tell me that there's concerns about animals, especially if you have cats or dogs inside the house, then trying to drink from that water. So that might be something to be cautious of. I'm actually recommending more that people just get the packaged tree preservative. It tends to have a lot more nutrients in it without some of that stuff. And it's totally safer for kids and pets and animals to be around. So, we use something called Oregon Tree forestry preservative that does a really good job with preventing needle drop.

PRENTICE: Do you expect your inventory to be dwindling by…..this weekend. Next weekend?

SCHRAMM: By the end of this weekend, it will be slim pickings. We've sold through more than half of our inventory already. That first weekend after Thanksgiving is now the biggest weekend of the year for sure. This upcoming weekend will be the second busiest and I will be surprised if the third weekend following Thanksgiving, we will have any inventory left this year.

PRENTICE: I'd be remiss if we didn't take a couple of minutes here to talk about the sustainability of this industry. When you talked about the relationship you have with that farm, it is about sustainability.

SCHRAMM: Absolutely. That's an important factor for us. Well, I feel very lucky to have found a farm that I can both work with year after year, but also has principles in line with what we are as an organic nursery and the sustainability, I believe, of fresh cut, regionally grown and harvested trees, regardless of which farmer you're able to get them from. To me, it's still a net gain on the positive side for getting a real Christmas tree every year. I was actually just listening to a great program on here and now with Robin Young and she was talking about these exact same things and how much there's the PVC that goes into artificial trees. You know, how does that way out with the possible fertilizers that go into growing the real tree And at the end of the day, all things considered, and the kind of toxic outgassing that you can get and the fact that most of the materials are made overseas to make fake Christmas trees, I still think that wherever you get your fresh cut tree, you're ahead of the game.

PRENTICE: You know, it's always something over the years, and I've lost count of how many years we've been talking. When I think of the last few Christmases. Covid really was a gut punch. Last year we were still on a bit of thin ice. This year we've got an economy that is missing a leg under the table, if you will. That said, when I see people on your lot and on a lot of lots, it's a look I haven't seen in quite some time to look at these young couples getting their first tree. Older couples rekindling that memory. And it's such a family event and it is unlike anything.

SCHRAMM: Oh, it is. And it is funny, I was reading another article about does the economy or supply and demand really affect whether people buy a Christmas tree or not? And the summary seems to be no, because it is an investment into a tradition and a holiday and a memory that people make. I absolutely love working in the Christmas tree lot this time of year because nobody ever goes shopping for a Christmas tree in a bad mood. And being part of that experience with people is something that has nothing to do with running a business. It just. Now, my daughter, who's 13, is actively working in the tree lot and it's her favorite time of year as well. And she rushes after the customers and tries to help them pick out what kind of tree. So, it's a truly… I think, unique and special event that you can do this time of year.

PRENTICE: Lindsay Schramm is owner of North End Organic Nursery. Lindsey, have a wonderful Christmas. Best of luck to you. Your daughter is 13. Oh, my gosh. So, this Christmas ought to be just great at your place.

SCHRAMM: Oh, it is. Thank you so much for talking with me again, George. I always appreciate it. Merry Christmas.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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