Expanding Organic, Ecological, Regenerative Christmas Tree Agroforestry in Maine

Progress report for FNE23-049

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2023: $20,311.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Celebration Tree Farm & Wellness Center, LLC
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:
Jonah T Fertig-Burd
Celebration Tree Farm & Wellness Center, LLC
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Project Information

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to:

  1. Research and compile best practices of regenerative, organic Christmas tree farmers around the country and to connect these farmers together 
    1. We will study what practices are being used and farmer observations about these practices, the benefits in protecting forest health, market perceptions and demand for these practices, and the financial benefits. 
    2. We will develop a guide that will document and share these best practices and promote organic, regenerative agroforestry.
  2. Provide education on organic regenerative agroforestry practices for Christmas tree farming in Maine
    1. We will evaluate based on the number of workshops that we deliver (goal is to develop and deliver 3 on-farm workshops, 1 webinar, and 3 conference workshops) and the evaluations that we receive after the workshops.  
  3.  Encourage existing Christmas tree farmers, existing farmers, service providers, and forestland owners to embrace organic, regenerative Christmas tree farming practices
    1. We will evaluate through conducting post-workshop surveys to determine whether participants are interested in pursuing these practices either by transitioning an existing tree farm or starting a new farm. 
  4. Reach 150 people in workshops and distribute 300 guides (digital and hardcopy)
    1. We will measure by tracking the number of people that attend workshops and download the guide. 

Maine is one of our nation's largest producers of Christmas Trees & Balsam products, with the majority of products being produced in conventional row cropping systems in Washington,  Aroostook, and Hancock counties.  Row cropping style monocultures are traditionally more prone to pest and disease pressure and require significant chemical input of pesticides to bring healthy crops to market. Additionally, large-scale monocultures require significant carbon-based inputs such as fuel to power mechanized equipment and petroleum-based fertilizer to speed crop development. Large acreage monocultures are more susceptible to damaging climacteric events such as drought and can affect the supply chain disproportionately when a limited number of producers in proximal geographies comprise the majority of a state's crop production. Christmas tree shortages within the supply chain have been observed in the last 5 years, as well as a lack of available organically certified trees and tree products. 

Celebration Tree Farm & Wellness Center is one of Maine's only MOFGA-certified organic Christmas tree farms, and practices regenerative coppicing harvest practices known to some as “stump culture”. This makes Celebration Tree Farm an outlier in the conifer products industry, both in practice and in production style. In managing our 118-acre woodlot with a holistic, chemical-free, and non-mechanized approach we are developing a unique production system and more adoptable practices for other aspiring Maine conifer producers and farmers with current land holdings.  Our coppiced tree harvesting technique is one that has been utilized since the neolithic age (Wunderlich 2020). Trees are cut at waist or breast height, with bows left unpruned beneath the basal cut. The photosynthetic material left on the tree allows for tree survival post-harvest, and additional shoots emerge allowing productive tree growth to continue. This technique allows for trees to grow and sequester carbon for 30+ years, while forest products can be harvested off said tree every 5-6 years. Production such as this allows for the forest floor to remain shaded, moist, and of consistent temperature, due to the lack of mass removal of tree products (Paschall 2019). This allows for an increase in biodiversity, the absence of soil erosion, an increase in carbon storage, and the sustainability of habitat for native birds and other vertebrates (Driesche 2019). This production style is a more passive form of forest management, equipment includes hand saws and sleds vs large tractors, spraying equipment, and fertilizer. Our production style allows for minimal overhead, low cost of entry for those with land holdings, long-term sustainability, and high product demand. Balsam tips are utilized for wreath-making materials and other value-added forest products. 

Many Maine farms currently operating have woodlots with native Balsam currently underutilized as a cash crop or supplementary income source. Many Maine vegetable and small fruit operations see a reduction of income from November-May in their “off-season” leading to the inability to employ staff year-round or live a higher quality of life. Furthermore, organic certification of one's woodlot creates the opportunity to welcome wreath makers, tippers, and other value-added conifer product entrepreneurs to harvest organically certified material for landowners' profit.  Celebration Tree Farm will both provide educational workshops and create a Guide to Ecological, Organic Christmas Tree Farming for aspiring conifer producers to eliminate barriers to entry to this exciting native crop.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Richard Hodges (Educator)
  • Jason Lilley - Technical Advisor


Materials and methods:
  1. Research and compile best practices of regenerative, organic Christmas tree farmers around the country and to connect these farmers together


Creation of  A Guide to Ecological, Organic Christmas Tree Farming will begin with documentation at Celebration Tree Farm. Documentation will include a step-by-step process for properly harvesting a tree using the coppice cut technique. Poor cuts and tree failure will also be displayed as a reference. Photos and text documenting post-cut practices including pruning, canopy thinning and improvement, leader selection, and removal of neighbor competing trees will also be documented. Value-added production of conifer products such as tipping for wreath material, shredding/chipping for aromatic products, and boiling/reducing into soaps, salves, and oils will also be highlighted in the Guide.  Additionally compiled in our guide will be the outcome of our outreach and research about producers nationwide who also use coppice culture harvesting, other ecological forestry practices, and/or conifer value-added production.   Information acquired from these producers will be the result of in-person, phone/zoom calls or otherwise direct contact with the producer. Producers will be encouraged to share photographs, meaningful data on conifer product growth, economic data, sales & market trends, and climacteric challenges in production. Outreach to Cooperative Extension in states with the nation's highest gross product sales (Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota) will yield additional resources and information for our Guide. We will also consult with forestry professors at the University of Maine to help provide content for the Guide.  Fertig-Burd and Prohl will work on this guide and will consult with our Technical Advisor to support the creation of the guide.  Fertig-Burd will do the editing and layout of the guide and it will be printed locally in Maine.  At the conclusion of this project, the Guide will be available in a hardcopy format for interested parties, as well as a digital version which will be shared widely within farm networks and service provider groups such as Cooperative Extension in hopes of reaching the widest audience of potential producers as possible. In summation, the guide will contain the following:

  1. What is ecological Organic Christmas Tree farming?
  2. Identifying Conifer species on your woodlot
  3. Coppice-culture: where you cut matters!
  4. Best Management Practices, Processes & Materials
  5. Value-added conifer production, What's possible with your products?
  6. Marketing & Sales
  7. Financials & Enterprise entry
  8. Long-term management of value-added conifer forests
  9. Conifers across the country, different species, and similar practices.
  10. Identification of Pest, Disease, and climacteric stressors in your woodlot. 


2.  Provide education on organic regenerative agroforestry practices for Christmas tree farming in Maine and beyond.

We will provide education on organic regenerative agroforestry practices for Christmas tree farming in Maine through direct engagement with interested parties via three on-farm workshops, one national webinar, and three workshops at conferences/trade shows. Celebration Tree farm is well situated to provide workshop offerings with meeting space in our 200-year-old barn, only steps away from our working forestland. In-person Workshops will center on disseminating the content of our Guide to Ecological, Organic Christmas Tree Farming through in-person hands-on learning in the forest, walking participants through practices & processes, and fielding questions and curiosities they may have on our practices. We are comfortable sharing our operating income and budgets with participants to better inform participants of the economics of our practices. Participants will receive a copy of our guide to return to their woodlot for further contemplation and learning.  On-farm workshops will be designed to target populations positioned to adopt practices. For example, one workshop will target currently operating Christmas Tree operations in New England, these operators will be contacted via the Maine Christmas Tree Association contact list. An additional workshop will target farmers and landholders currently managing unutilized woodlots. Another in-person workshop will have a targeted audience of key collaborators and service providers such as Cooperative Extension, Maine Christmas Tree Association, Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, and Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association. This day-long workshop will act as training for providers who work with clients with farms/land holdings. Training this population will provide a broader project reach and greater adoption of practices. We will offer a webinar that we will promote Nationally through Extension offices and Christmas tree associations, which will provide an overview of the guide and engage a wider audience.   Our three conference workshops will be targeted to Maine conferences with the greatest potential reach, such as MOFGA’s Common Ground Fair and Farmer to Farmer Conference and the Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry’s annual Ag Trade Show. An adapted slideshow version of our Guide will be shown to audience members; a digital and hardcopy version will be provided as well.


  1. Encourage existing Christmas tree farmers, existing farmers, service providers, and forestland owners to embrace organic, regenerative Christmas tree farming practices


Our outreach and education will be focused on garnering excitement and practicing the adoption of regenerative Christmas tree farming practices. This will be achieved through in-person engagement at our seven workshops and conferences, training of service providers and land managers, and wide dissemination of our Guide. The Guide will examine the ecological benefits of these practices for forest health, climate health, farmer health, and overall farm sustainability. The Guide’s inclusion of the economics and potential profits associated with regenerative tree farming will act as a strong attractant to those seeking to maximize profits on their land base. The low cost of entry to conifer enterprises will be encouraging to many farmers and landowners. Many currently operating farms have woodlands that are undermanaged and underutilized.  Our outreach, education, and Guide will act as a very thorough playbook that shall make the adoption of practices much more accessible for others to embrace. Close collaboration and resource sharing within Maine’s Christmas Tree Association will hopefully yield the adoption of practices within currently operating Christmas tree farms. The growing interest in organically certified wreaths and other conifer products will act as further encouragement in considering the adoption of regenerative practices and or transition to organic certification.


  1. Reach 150 people in workshops and distribute 300 guides (digital and hardcopy)


The number of people reached by the project will be directly correlated with our outreach, education, and research guide dissemination. The number of participants impacted through workshops and conferences will be recorded on a workshop by workshop, or conference-by-conference basis.  Digital versions of the Guide will be made available to all conference attendees whether or not they attended our outreach session. Service providers utilizing our Guide to assist landholders and farmers will be asked to report to us quarterly on the number of persons having been provided the guide. Greater outreach will be achieved by sharing our guide as a digital resource. A digital version of the guide will be uploaded to Youtube.com complete with step-by-step audio narration alongside a slideshow-style presentation complete with pictures, videos, and text. Not only will this be a useful tool for farmers and landholders, it will also allow us to track engagement and reach via the number of times the guide is viewed online. Contact information for Celebration Tree Farm owners will be provided for further collaboration, clarification, and education.

Research results and discussion:

We are still working on our research so we don't have results yet.  

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

2 On-farm demonstrations
2 Tours
2 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

30 Farmers participated
25 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

We have held four workshops so far.  One workshop for Cooperative Extension and NRCS staff, one for a general audience at the Common Ground Fair, one for the Maine Christmas Tree Association and one for Outdoor Educators.  We have had farmers that are interested in our practices and want to learn more, but we have not heard of anyone actually changing their practices yet.  Since tree farming is a long term process it takes time to make significant changes to an operation.    

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

We have started our research but have more research to do to complete our guide.  One of the challenges that we have faced is that there are not many Christmas tree farmers that are doing ecological practices so we have had a hard time finding them.  

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.