Local Christmas Tree Farms: A Lens Into Environmental Science

Do You Know Where Your Christmas Tree Comes From?

An examination of evergreen tree farming can help children learn about a non-food related form of sustainable farming. Tree farming contributes to oxygen production, provides food and habitat for variety of animal species, and doesn’t have a huge impact on the location in which it takes place.

As the weather gets colder and snow starts to enter the forecast, the holiday season is filled with opportunities for learning about all kinds of topics. The change of weather can support learning with activities like searching for nests and animal tracks in the snow, and participating as citizen scientists counting raptors and song birds.

Families can also explore the cultural roots of winter holidays, like Santa Lucia Day during Welcome Yule or reading about Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa while snuggled up before a long winter’s nap!

Most holiday-related learning has to do with history, culture, religion, literature, art, and music. Math can even be integrated with some creativity, but it’s harder to find a natural connection between the holidays and science – especially environmental science.

There is a link between the holidays and environmental science, though – and it’s a good one! Do your children know where your Christmas tree comes from? Here in rural Western MA, it’s possible that one of your annual holiday traditions involves a tromp out into your own woodlot to chop down a vaguely Charlie Brown-ish trunk to add to your living room, but it’s more likely that your tree came from a tree farm. Whether that farm was nearby or far away, a look at how your tree was grown provides a myriad of learning opportunities!

Firsthand experience at a Christmas tree farm is, of course, the best way to learn about tree farming, but there are lots of other resources to get information from, too! The Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association (MCTA) offers information on finding farms in Massachusetts – incredibly valuable for families looking for a firsthand farm experience. While the MCTA site also includes tips for care of trees at home and proper post-holiday disposal, the Real Trees 4 Kids site includes information and comprehensive tree curriculum for grades K-12. Parents and educators will find resources grouped not only by grade cluster (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) but by topic as well. Activities for younger children focus on exploring trees as a topic, while upper elementary children will learn about the life cycle and recycling of trees. Middle school children can learn the scientific names of various conifers and will learn about the life of a tree grower, and high school teens will delve into the ins and outs of growing healthy trees – there’s a lot of soil science involved!

See what farms in Western MA our reader recommend: Locally Grown Christmas Tree Farms.

Studying Christmas trees doesn’t have to be limited just to the holiday season, either! Use this year’s holiday to begin a long-term exploration of conifers in your surroundings. Learning to identify evergreen trees is easy in the winter, as surrounding deciduous trees are bare, and families can deepen their understanding of the trees’ growth and role in the environment by watching them all year round.  Here are some book title to explore to help get you started:

[Photo credit: (cc) Evan]

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