While decorating your Christmas
tree with baubles and lights, you might be inclined to consider how
it got there. Did it come from a farm? A forest? Who cut it down?
How long did it grow? How far was its journey?
If you got your tree in the Portland area, there's a decent chance
it came from McKenzie
Farms, a local Christmas tree empire that uses manpower, trucks
and a helicopter in its massive annual harvest.
The Estacada Christmas tree farm is big - really big. Every year
you might come into contact with one or two Christmas trees, but
McKenzie exports nearly 800,000. You've been thinking about that
tree since Thanksgiving, but McKenzie has been growing it for the
The farm has been in business since 1991, surviving the bumps of
the Great Recession and emerging as a major player in the national
Christmas tree industry. McKenzie Farms exports its firs to Asia,
Hawaii, Mexico and the eastern U.S. before harvesting for local
Orchard Supply Hardware, Lowe's and Home Depot stores, among
"I call it a passion," farm owner McKenzie "Ken" Cook said. "A
passion for Christmas trees and what it means in a person's
That passion is a year-round process on the farm's 197 fields,
where some 8 million trees are in the ground at different stages of
growth. Most are noble and Douglas firs, with smaller stands of
grand and Nordmann firs mixed in. Each tree grows for eight years,
on average, and when its time comes it begins a swift and complex
journey to your living room.
Every Christmas tree from McKenzie Farms is touched at least 11
times before it gets to the customer, Cook said - many more
times if you factor in its journey at the store.
"The average consumer, they have no idea what goes into a
Christmas tree," he said. "These trees become personal to us; their
needs become our needs."
Those needs are attended to throughout the winter, spring and
summer at the farm, when workers are busy sowing, growing and
tagging. It's all a preamble, though, to fall, when the real action
On a drizzly November morning at the farm's headquarters near
Estacada, teams of workers are spread out among McKenzie's
patchwork of fields, cutting pre-tagged trees and tying them into
bundles with rope. They could drive in a tractor and haul the trees
out - a process Cook calls "mudding" - but instead the farm
uses a slightly more expensive, but ultimately much more effective
After the workers bundle up the trees in a field, a helicopter
flies in and picks up the bunches one at a time, taking them to the
edge of the field, where the trees are bailed and transported in
small trucks to the main loading area. The pilot makes dozens of
runs in each field, swooping back and forth with swift, mechanical
The bailed trees are then taken to a large loading area by the
farm's office, where they're stacked in huge piles, arranged by
size and destination. Soon after arriving, workers load them into
freight trucks, which take McKenzie's Christmas trees far and
The process is necessarily fast, to ensure freshness of the trees
upon arrival, Cook said. Once cut, trees are usually shipped off
the farm within 96 hours.
McKenzie Farms is just one part - though a big part - of
Oregon's massive Christmas tree industry. Oregon farms harvested
5.2 million trees in 2016, according to the Pacific Northwest
Christmas Tree Association, far more than any other
The industry as a whole, however, is still
bouncing back from the recession, which forced the closure of
many farms and nearly took out McKenzie. The industry had hit its
high-water mark in 2002, when wholesale revenues reached $130
million, but cratered during the recession to $98 million. Recent
years haven't been much better. In 2016, Oregon revenues totaled
only $90 million.
farms are raising prices on trees to make up for a short
supply that has finally caught up from the tail end of the
recession. That may be an added humbug for consumers this season,
but it should help keep the industry humming along as it continues
to cycle out of a downturn.
The folks at McKenzie Farms don't seem to be worried. Throughout
all the ups and the downs, the farm will keep doing what it does
best: harvest boatloads of Christmas trees, from Willamette Valley
fields to living rooms around the world.
--Jamie Hale | firstname.lastname@example.org | @HaleJamesB