A few welcome snowflakes accompanied the mid-morning celebration of baling, photographing and cutting as Mistletoe Meadows owner Joe Freeman did the honors. Joe said he wanted no one but himself to cut this special tree, and he had hoped to do it without trimming any branches, but had to lose a few to get as close to the trunk as possible. Farm workers held tightly to support lines as Joe crawled underneath the tree, using two different chainsaws to carefully cut the trunk of this magnificent 24-year-old, 20-foot tall Fraser fir. The crowd of family and friends, official guests and media held their collective breath as the tree swayed, then applauded as it gently collapsed to the ground.
More than a dozen farm workers assisted Joe in carrying the 2,000 pound tree to a waiting trailer that would take it off the farm to the tractor-trailer waiting to transport it to Washington, D.C. The tree will grace the Blue Room of the White House this season as the official National Christmas Tree. Joe Freeman and his wife Linda Jones were scheduled to be in the nation’s capital Monday to present the tree to First Lady Laura Bush.
“This is quite an honor for Ashe County and North Carolina,” said NC Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler at the cutting ceremony. “I am very proud to take part in the ceremony. I want to offer congratulations to Joe Freeman for his dedication to get to this point, and I want to thank him and Linda for bestowing this honor on North Carolina.”
Later at the courthouse ceremony, Troxler thanked the Freeman’s for their efforts, knowing what it took to raise the tree to this point. He said it was his opinion that North Carolina has exceeded Oregon in Christmas tree production and sales so he proclaimed on Friday afternoon that “We are the Christmas tree state in the nation!” Troxler presented the Freeman’s with a model of the special North Carolina Christmas Tree Association decorated distribution truck that was parked outside the courthouse with the White House tree.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s assistant, Graham Fields, presented a proclamation for the Freeman’s and Mistletoe Meadows during the tree cutting ceremony, and Jane Lonon with the Ashe County Arts Council presented a barn quilt entitled “Field of Trees” to be installed on a barn at Mistletoe Meadows. Lonon said the beautiful artwork would take the place of the beautiful tree that was leaving the farm. It was created by Joy Campbell and Theresa Early Curd and based on the traditional Christmas Tree pattern.
Linda Jones said she and Joe were delighted to receive the barn quilt because it is a beautiful piece of artwork and the farm was losing a thing of beauty.
Many of those from the cutting ceremony joined community members from around the county and region Friday afternoon at Ashe County Courthouse in Jefferson to congratulate the Freeman’s and wish them a safe trip to Washington. Everyone gathered in the beautifully decorated rotunda of the courthouse and enjoyed cookies and cider from 4-H youth and local school children.
County Commission Chairman Richard Blackburn welcomed the group, including NC Sen. Steve Goss and NC Rep. Cullie Tarleton and representatives of the state and county Christmas Tree Associations.
“Thanksgiving reminds us of all we have to be thankful for, and we are entering the Christmas season and a time of joy,” Blackburn said. “Ashe County has a lot to be thankful for and joyful about.” He noted the many natural resources and quality of life that are a blessing to the county and northwestern North Carolina.
“This is one of those great days I’m happy to tell people I grew up in Ashe County, North Carolina,” said Sen. Goss. “People like the Freeman’s demonstrate what they can do by sending a tree to the White House from Ashe County.”
Joe Freeman’s is the fifth tree from Ashe County, and the tenth from North Carolina to go to the White House. He joins fellow Ashe Countians Sanford Fishel from 1997, Ron Hudler and Danny Dollar from 1995, and Hal and Sarah Johnson from 1984 and 1982. Growers earn the honor by being named Grand Champion at the National Christmas Tree Association Contest.
“Of all the thousands of counties in the United States, Ashe County was chosen for the White House tree. What an honor,” said Rep. Tarleton to the Freeman’s. “You honor our county, our state and our country.”
Ed Rogers with the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Development Committee said the county’s economy is driven by industry and many may not realize that Christmas tree production is an industry. One way to recognize visitors to the county is by the Christmas tree tied to the tops of their vehicles, he said. Tourism has a tremendous impact on the county’s economy, he added, but it is often forgotten how important farming is to the economy.
“Today marks the start of Choose and Cut Season, and what better way than to send one of our trees to the White House,” Rogers said. He invited everyone to visit Jefferson Landing through the holidays to see the Gingerbread House Extravaganza and vote on their favorites, with proceeds going to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library project in Ashe County.
Linda Gragg with the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association thanked Commissioner Troxler and his staff for what they do to support agriculture and for that beautiful truck provided for the White House tree. “What a great day, what a great day!” she said. In 41 years of officially presenting the White House with a Christmas tree, 10 of those have been from North Carolina and five of those from Ashe County. Gragg said those gathered Friday at the courthouse were in the “heart of people who know how to do Christmas trees. What an honor to have a North Carolina Fraser fir gracing the White House one more time.”
Thanking the crowd for their support and good wishes, Joe and Linda said they are excited to be going to Washington, D.C., and consider it an honor and a privilege to be presenting the official White House tree and meeting First Lady Laura Bush.
The Freeman’s were presented with a special plaque from the county commissioners and a poem written by Ashe County resident Robert D. Campbell. The poem is titled “The Nation’s Christmas Tree”:
An event that occurs once each year,
To remind us of the joy and peace we share,
Includes the selection of the Christmas tree,
That is placed in the White House for all to see.
This tree represents two kinds of freedom,
They both are precious, and we really need’em.
Freedom from oppression by a foreign power,
And freedom to worship a higher power.
It’s pride and honor the grower must take
To have grown this tree in the Tar Heel state.
His other trees he may sell for cash,
But this one tree honors the County of Ashe.
A plaque was also presented by Economic Development Director Dr. Pat Mitchell to Della Tucker with Extension Service agriculture in appreciation for the Ashe County Christmas tree industry and its impact on the county’s economy.