So many reasons to keep the season sustainable.
In Denmark, the interest for organic Christmas trees is growing.
(Updated November 2020)
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, how lovely are your branches. Do you bring a real evergreen into your home to celebrate the season? Hailing from the state of Oregon, the largest producer of Christmas trees in the USA, I definitely do. There is something so spectacular about the scent of fresh fir all up in our festive faces that smells like Christmas spirit to me. Maybe it just clears the odor of teen spirit that normally dominates my domicile. But does that perfect fir tree you find need to be organic? Scratch and sniff on this folks. To keep the season sustainable, the answer is yes and please. I’m dreaming of a green Christmas.
What if this year your Christmas tree was not only lovely to look at bedecked in baubles and decorations and lights, but could also be good for the environment and the people who produced it too? That would be fantastisk you’d say. That’s Danish for fantastic. I’d say so too. Did you know that you can buy an organic, fair trade Christmas tree that can benefit people around the world? In Denmark, you can. That is fantastisk indeed.
DANES DO CHRISTMAS RIGHT
Timber! Tis the season for many around the world to celebrate Christmas. Here in Denmark, Danes truly love this holiday and dedicate the entire month of December (and most of November) to Dansk Jul and all its traditions. Don’t mess with Danish Christmas. And Danish Christmas happens on the 24th of December – the same in all of the Scandinavian countries. On this day, families gather together for a special meal rife with ritual and many a delicious dish. No Schweddy balls on this table, but maybe a marzipan pig or two.
After dinner with family and friends is done, the juletræ (Christmas tree) is pulled to the center of the room where dancing and singing encircles the scene. Many Danes still light their trees with real candles (scary I know) so there is no fear of tripping over cords or unplugging their trees to keep up the hygge. Preserving customs like this sustain a country’s cultural heritage. For a small country like Denmark, this is important. As Americans living in Denmark, we love Danish Christmas. But will admit, we have yet to make the teens take a turn in tune around our own juletræ. I do make an annual alternative Christmas playlist with a heavy Scandi sound and we play that plenty.
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PROTECTING DENMARK | THE CUSTOMS AND THE LAND
Preserving the actual countryside is also increasingly important to people in Denmark, not unlike many populations around the planet worried about rising greenhouse gases and global warming. But this Scandi country takes sustainability next level by prioritizing it in many aspects of life. From city planning and infrastructure that accommodates bicycle commuting, to developing and using renewable energy sources for carbon-neutral capitals, to waste disposal systems that provide central heating for homes, to making organic food products readily available for its populace. In fact, Denmark boasts the second-highest per capita consumption of organic food in the world and the world’s highest organic food market share at 8.4%.¹ In recent years, there is a concerted effort to tackle food waste as well. That is some serious øko-goodness happening in this happy little country. It all helps.
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WITH SO MUCH ORGANIC PRODUCE, WHY NOT ORGANIC CHRISTMAS TREE FARMS?
It would make sense that Denmark, a largely agrarian economy outside the capital, would be interested in supporting a season of sustainable celebrating. Coming back to Christmas, where there are 11 million trees are cut and sold every year in Denmark. With a population that hovers around 6 million, the bulk of those fine fir trees are shipped abroad to neighboring Sweden and Germany. That same Germany most often credited with our modern Christmas tree traditions.
Back in Denmark, people have been bringing greenery inside during winter since the time of the Vikings, but bringing in the whole tree didn’t take root until Victorian time. 25,000 hectares of Danish land is dedicated to growing Christmas here in Denmark. But only 2% of all those juletræer are produced organically, according to Claus Jerram Christensen, the Director of the Danish Christmas Tree Association. Claus attributes the small percentage to a few factors:
- Trees are not food. Many consumers who buy organic products are concerned with health issues in relation to food intake. Others buy organic for [animal] welfare reasons – none of these are relevant for Christmas trees.
- Conventional and organic production of Christmas trees is [very similar] – the main difference lies in weed control. Organically grown trees are also fertilized and regulated for pests (with [sustainable] substances though.)
- Time. Danish rules are strict on organic production. You have to start with organically certified seed and/or seedlings. It means, that from the moment you decide on making an organic product until you have a marketable tree it takes between 8 to 10 years.
- 90 % of the Danish production goes for export. The majority of these markets are not (very) focused on organic trees (yet).
But you don’t eat a Christmas tree, so why does it need to be organic?
Ask any passionate organic tree grower or seller in Denmark – I’ve talked to several and they are ALL passionate about their products. They will all tell you that fir trees aren’t food is the number one objection they hear over and over again for consumers not purchasing a økologisk juletræ. “I don’t eat my Christmas tree, so why do I need to worry about it being organic?”
Public education required perhaps, but awareness is growing. According to Asmus Gamdrup Jensen, of Jul Til Døren, a Copenhagen based organic Christmas tree purveyor, the public’s general interest in buying organic products has been increasing over the past few years.
Asmus previously owned an organic food market in the Vesterbro neighborhood and he believes people are understanding that sustainable production is both beneficial for their personal health as well as the planet and goes beyond just the food we ingest. He sees a tide turning and wants to ride the wave. Jul Til Døren is a project between five friends committed to the idea that your Christmas tree can be sustainable. They have recently planted 3000 fair-trade organic Christmas tree seedlings and see the future for sustainable trees only growing greener.
MORE THAN ORGANIC, FAIR TREES ARE FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED
Jul til Døren sourced their recent round of sustainable seedlings from the queen of organic Christmas trees, right here in Denmark. Marianne Bols runs Fair Trees who offer products that are more than just organic, they’re fair trade certified. Marianne is also the chairman of the recently formed Organic Christmas Tree Growers of Denmark. She believes in sustainability all the way to the source of the single seed that grows into your family’s holiday centerpiece.
Do you know where your Christmas tree comes from? Marianne wants you to know. And we’re not talking about the lot down the road, or the U-cut farm with the horse-drawn carriages, but where the actual seeds started. She explained to me that 80% of the Christmas trees sold each year in Western Europe are sourced from 100-year-old natural forests in the former Soviet republic of Georgia.² Fair Trees is the first global concept brand for the ethical and sustainable sourcing of Christmas trees. And her passion for her product shines brighter than those LED sparkly twinkle lights you’ll wrap around your tree.
It is the mission of the Fair Trees Fund to improve the living standards locally in Georgia through education, environmental measures and health-promoting activities. The Fair Trees Fund works to improve the living and working conditions of the poor Georgian cone pickers, who encounter great risks when collecting cones and seeds from the Nordmann fir for the growing of Christmas trees. Furthermore, it is the objective of the Fund to promote the purification and production of Christmas trees in compliance with the principles of sustainability and eco-friendliness.” – FairTrees.co.uk
YOUR CHRISTMAS TREE CAN LOOK GOOD AND DO GOOD
From Georgia to Denmark and back, Marianne assures me that Fair Seeds turn into Fair Trees on organic farms here in Denmark and are shipped throughout Europe once mature. A percentage of profit is then put back into supporting the local Georgian economy, where the Fair Trees Fund has established schools as well as medical and dental facilities for the traditionally poor communities that work in the Christmas tree seed collecting economy.
From the beginning, Georgian Fair Trees workers are educated in environmental safety, given insurance, and taught what Marianne calls “how to behave in the forest.” None of the seed collectors wear spikes that potentially damage the trees and they always leave 30% of the seeds to ensure biodiversity and ecologies for the resident animal communities.
BENEFITS OF GROWING ORGANIC CHRISTMAS TREES
Organic Christmas tree producers like Marianne Bols of Fair Trees believe strongly that sustainable farming will help protect the environment for generations to come. This is definitely true for Tobias Dinesen, who runs Grønnetop, the online organic Christmas tree marketplace that can deliver directly to living rooms all over Copenhagen and surrounding Sjælland. He has seen the increased demand for organic trees but is aware of the limited access. Tobias hopes to help rectify that situation and if from his little corner of the planet, he can support a more sustainable resource, he will be more than happy.
Conventionally grown trees use of pesticides and growth manipulating hormones can leach harmful agents, like glyphosate into the groundwater. Removing potential pollutants from the watershed is only one way that sustainable farming benefits the local environments. The use of natural ground covers to prevent weeds and invasive insects from damaging trees while they grow keeps organic fertilizers from seeping into the water table.
These supporting plants work in synergy with the fir tree and provide environments that attract pollinators like bees, an added bonus. These biologic land carpets compound the carbon dioxide binding benefits of lands dedicated to Christmas tree farming. Double bonus points. One hectare of sustainably grown evergreen trees can bind 13 tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.² Yes please and ja tak. Plastic trees can’t do that. And every year that a Christmas tree crop is cut down, new trees are planted, creating a continuous cycle of carbon neutralizing fields. Now that is Christmas joy.
BUT WHAT DOES AN ORGANIC CHRISTMAS TREE LOOK LIKE?
Talk to Grønnetop’s Dinesen and he will tell you that an organic tree has a unique character when compared to its conventionally grown counterpart. Marianne Bols prefers the look of trees grown naturally, more like what you would find out in the forest. Without hormone manipulation, organically grown firs will exhibit more diversity of shape, density and color.
Both Grønnetop and Jul til Døren want to deliver you the prettiest tree and carefully curate the best of their crops for online purchases. But if you are like me (or my mom) the idea of letting someone else decide which tree to bring me is difficult to digest. Even if it is organic. Tobias admits that his own market studies have shown that the majority of tree buyers want to pick out their own tree. Don’t worry, you can find Grønnetop and Jul til Døren trees for sale at local lots around Copenhagen so you can source one yourself. Seeing is believing.
WHERE TO GET YOUR ORGANIC CHRISTMAS TREE
ORGANIC CHRISTMAS TREES DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR
Jul til Døren
Delivers organic Nordmann Fir trees for free to the greater Copenhagen metro area. Prices range from 380 DKK for the smallest to 850 DKK for a 3m tall tree. Pick your own out locally at the following lots, can be delivered for 100DKK.
– Israel Plads across from Torvehallerne
– Cirkelines Plads
– Købkes Plads in Carlsberg Byen
Delivers økologisk Nordmann Fir trees to the whole of Copenhagen and Zealand, postal codes 1-4999 for free. Tree prices range from 399 DKK to 579 DKK depending on size.
LOCAL LOTS SELLING ØKOLOGISK JULETRÆER IN COPENHAGEN
Look for the Danish red Ø label certifying that your Christmas tree is organic. There are strict requirements to receive that økologisk label in Denmark, so make sure your tree has that specific designation.
TO FIND ORGANIC TREES BEYOND COPENHAGEN, CHECK HERE.
Tis the season and sustainability a reason to think organic this Christmas. Not in Copenhagen? Look around locally for Christmas tree purveyors that grow organically. None in your area? Asking implies demand and the more demand, the more viable a market. Let’s ask for what we want. A better environment. A sustainable future. That is a gift to us all. As they say in Denmark, Glædelig Jul! Merry Christmas. Cheers to you and yours.