Sunday, December 26, 2004

Woodsman, Rent That Tree

Thar's gold in that thar liberal guilt, if you live in Portland, Oregon or Alabama's Gulf Coast:

The Original Living Christmas Tree Company founded by John Fogel, 39, has rented out 419 Christmas trees this holiday season, starting at $55 for a 7-foot Douglas fir.

The trees are taken out of the ground, roots and all, put into pots, and delivered to families in the Portland area. Soon after New Year's, Fogel and his crew pick up the trees and deliver them to parks, school districts and other groups who pay around $10 to have the trees planted on their property.

"It seems like to cut a tree and put it in your house and have it dry out and then just toss it away is such a shame. This way, I know it will be replanted - no guilt,'' said the 61-year-old [Pat] de Garmo, a retired nurse....

While Fogel says he could grow beyond his current orders, he maintains a strict policy of accepting no more orders than he can find buyers willing to plant the trees come January.

"Just the idea of cutting all of these trees - these living things for decorations - kind of appalls me,'' said 44-year-old Glen Jacobs, a high school theater teacher in Portland, who along with his family has turned renting a tree into a yearly tradition.

While tree-rental businesses appear to be a rarity, buying live Christmas trees that have been placed in pots is less so.

Steve Mannhard is a board member of the National Christmas Tree Association. About a decade ago customers began showing up with shovels at his sprawling Christmas tree farm on Alabama's Gulf Coast.

"People started trying to dig the trees out of the ground. I asked them: `Why are you doing that?' They said, `Because I want it to live,' '' said Mannhard, 57, who began offering potted trees in addition to cut ones at Fish River Trees, near Summerdale, Ala., in 1992.

Last year, out of a total of nearly 5,000 trees he sold, about 1,000 were potted, said Mannhard - a fact he says underscores the popularity of the living tree concept.

"Trees and human beings have a close relationship - and some people are more sensitive to that,'' he said.

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