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O, Christmas Tree 

Supporting the fir trade.

It's holiday season column time, so I'm tempted to go off on an anti-consumption rant, dis excessive light displays and bitch about holiday travel—Ho, Ho, Ho!

Thankfully, I've got a more upbeat story to share—and if you're into the consumption thing, have I got some suggestions for you.

This story starts with the Ecology Action Centre's organic Christmas tree fundraiser. The details: you can order your tree before this coming Monday at the EAC's farmers' market booth or over the phone, at 442-0198. Prices are comparable to those at commercial tree lots, and pick-up is December 15 at the Bloomfield Centre.

The tree sale is one of EAC's most important fundraisers, and if you're going to buy a Christmas tree anyway, why not help out a worthwhile organization?

But here's where things get really interesting. To research this column, I called Kevin Veinotte, the supplier of the EAC's trees. Veinotte's an amiable and talkative fellow, and our conversation wandered over a lot of territory, from trees to books to organic farming practices to global warming.

Veinotte is vice-president of the Lunenburg County Christmas Tree Producer Association, and ably represents his competitors.

"Nova Scotian Christmas tree producers don't rely on much in the way of fertilizers or pesticides, compared to American producers," he said. "We don't have big irrigation projects in dry climates. Our operations are smaller and spread out. You won't find the 900-acre lots, or even the 9,000-acre lots you find down in the states. Most here are family operations, and most are on less than 50 acres. It's a tough business. Nobody's getting rich doing this."

Veinotte has 20 acres of Christmas trees—balsam firs-—part of 500 acres he owns in the LaHave River Valley, north of Bridgewater. His father started the Christmas tree operation in 1952.

"We were never big on pesticides," he said. "No one liked working on them, because of the residue—the trees are sheared by hand. I wouldn't do it and wouldn't expect any of the guys to do it, either."

He did, however, use fertilizers—"about a half cup per tree." But about a dozen years ago he decided to make his lot entirely chemical-free, and he has recently been certified organic.

"I find that without the fertilizers, I don't have the bug problems," he said. To deal with aphids, he releases up to 300,000 ladybugs each year. "Yes, they fly away, but if you time it right, they'll do their job first."

Now the bug problems are minor. What damage he sees is "proof that everything is in balance—the predatory insects are taking care of the problem insects."

Organic trees take about two years longer to mature, but with careful management, Veinotte finds he has a more stable and consistently profitable operation.

He takes the same careful approach to the rest of his property. Most of it is woodlot, and for his efforts Veinotte was named woodlot owner of the year in Nova Scotia.

When he mentioned his 100 acres of pasture, we started talking about what's known as "management-intensive grazing," a system of farm management that Michael Pollan wrote about in his recent best-seller, The Omnivore's Dilemma. (The book would make a great Christmas present...)

In Omnivore, Pollan follows Joel Salatin, the Virginia farmer who is more or less the guru of management-intensive grazing, and has written several books of his own on the subject. Salatin explains how, using moveable electric fences, cattle are brought in when the grass is at just the right stage of growth; then the chickens are allowed to peck through the cattle droppings; manure and compost are applied at the correct intervals, and so forth.

If done right, not only does the process improve the soil each year, but production exceeds that of conventional chemical-laden farms and the resulting meat is healthier and better tasting than the corn-fed livestock cuts sold in supermarkets.

" books are in the library at the agriculture college in Truro—collecting cobwebs" said Veinotte. "No one reads them. I've also found some great books published in the 1930s, before chemical fertilizers were introduced. They had the same problems we have now, but they knew how to deal with them."

Using such methods, Veinotte raises beef, lamb, pork and free range poultry.

"More and more people are talking about local organic food," he said. "And it's our only chance—Nova Scotia will never be a least-cost producer. But this is greener, and less fuel is consumed; it's a good way to address global warming."

Like Salatin, Veinotte sees his wood lot as part of the grazing operation, serving to cool the fields, provide cover for wildlife and control erosion.

All of which is reason enough to buy his trees.

Branch out. Email

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