By Aly Miller, Design and Marketing
In the lush wilderness of British Columbia sits Santa Rosa Ranch, a Certified Naturally Grown Christmas tree farm, where trees are grown in harmony with nature without use of synthetic chemicals or pesticides. These beautiful fir trees are not only healthy for the soil, water and wildlife, but also safe for people and their homes.
Farmer Christopher Delaney at Santa Rosa Ranch in Barrière, British Columbia, is the only majority-Christmas tree grower in the Certified Naturally Grown community, and this year marks his first harvest.
Just in time for the holidays, we interviewed Delaney about what it’s like to grow Christmas trees and bring them to market for the first time.
CNG: What types of trees do you grow?
CD: We grow British Columbia Douglas Fir trees. They are native to British Columbia, and make beautiful Christmas trees. By growing native species on our farm, we are maintaining our commitment to natural methods by not introducing any invasive species to the land.
CNG: What's the story behind your farm?
CD: We began farming Christmas trees back in 2007 when we first bought our ranch. It is a 160 acre property in the Canadian wilderness about 20 minutes from the town. We originally bought our ranch simply as a recreational property I started thinking about how we could maximize the value of the property, including the large, 30 acre hay meadow we had. Since we were still living in Vancouver at the time and only spent weekends and vacations at our ranch, we needed to farm something that we could manage intermittently.
Christmas trees seemed like a perfect solution, but I didn’t want to do any damage to our land by fertilizing them. We have deer, moose and bears, birds of all kinds, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, bobcats and even cougars on our property, not to mention a beautiful stream and river that cuts through. I didn’t want any toxins seeping into the soil or being eaten by wildlife. At that point I had never even heard of Certified Naturally Grown, but when I started researching natural farming, I found CNG!
CNG: What were some of the factors that went into your decision to join CNG?
CD: We joined Certified Naturally Grown to be a part of a community committed to better farming practices. We wanted the support and the credibility that goes with being part of an international body that certifies natural farming best practices.
CNG is perfect for our farm because we believe in the same things. CNG is a terrific organization of people who all want to make the planet a better place.
CNG: As a tree grower, what are your seasons like, and when can you harvest?
CD: We work on our trees year round. We shear them in the late winter and early spring and late summer and fall. We put turkeys and chickens in the field for pest control in the summer. They eat ants, grasshoppers and other insects that can sometimes damage the trees.
We harvest in late November for the Christmas season.
CNG: What makes Certified Naturally Grown Christmas trees different from conventional ones?
CD: Naturally grown trees take almost twice as long (10-14 years) to grow as heavily fertilized trees (which take 5-7 years).
We have over 25,000 trees growing at different stages. trees like ours are subject to the influences of nature, and can grow to different heights and fullnesses based on location, amount of shade or sunlight, soil quality, and water table of the soil. Because they’re growing in nature, they’re not uniform.
Another thing we do is cut the trees about 4-6 inches from the ground so we could leave a lower branch attached. What that does is it allows a new tree to grow in place of the one we just cut, thereby encouraging sustainability.
We don’t “kill” the trees, but instead re-grow a new one on the same stump. This is incredibly beneficial to the environment, and to us as a business because we are able to grow the second tree in about half the time as the new branch is drawing from a mature root system.
Less than 1% of all Christmas trees sold each year are naturally grown, so our trees appeal to people who appreciate better farming practices and want to be a part of that.
Sean Symes and Chris Delaney
CNG: 2018 is a busy season for you! Tell us about your first harvest, and how you're selling the trees.
CD: 2018 was the first year we sold an order of trees. We sold the trees to a large nursery in Vancouver called Art Knapp’s Plantland.. We’re the only CNG and naturally grown Christmas tree farm in British Columbia. We also branded our trees with the cartoon character, Christopher the Christmas Tree, which children and parents know from the animated TV special which has been playing annually for 25 years. Christopher is the perfect symbol for our trees because of his concern for reforestation.
CNG: What are your goals for your farm in the future?
CD: We learned a lot this year about what it takes to harvest, bundle a ship our trees. I’ve never farmed anything before starting my tree farm (I was a film producer and games developer most of my career).
It was a great experience because it helped us understand the logistics of a larger scale harvest. We expect to be able to ship about 1,000-2,000 trees next year. At that volume we may look at retailing them ourselves by renting a lot in Vancouver or some of the other cities in BC and selling directly to the public. We also have interest from fundraising groups that sell Christmas trees each year.
We love the trees. They are literally like friends, as you get to know each one individually by trimming them and assessing them for growth and harvest-ability every year. With our new technique of leaving a branch on the cut stump to re-grow a new tree, we look forward to harvesting our trees over the course of several generations.