LA CENTER — Cut it. Bale it. Load it. Repeat.
The process of harvesting Christmas trees sounds simple enough on its face. Then you throw in months of preparation, a dizzying slate of orders, unpredictable weather and a wreath business on top of it.
One might say that requires always thinking ahead.
Evelyn Casella calls it “stressing ahead.”
“Every time a truck goes out, it’s like, ‘there’s one more down the road,’” said Casella, who runs Christmas Creek Ranch with husband Gary.
Christmas Creek is one of hundreds of tree growers across the state currently working their way through the annual Christmas harvest. Washington is one of the top producers in the country, harvesting about 2.3 million trees last year, according to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association. Oregon is by far the biggest supplier of Christmas trees, producing 6.4 million in 2011.
For wholesalers, some of the busiest times are the days leading up to Thanksgiving. That’s when many buyers are gathering their inventory to roll out on tree lots shortly after the holiday.
The frenetic pace generally slows some once Thanksgiving passes. But by the end of the season, Christmas Creek and neighboring Highland Acres typically ship between 8,000 and 10,000 trees per year combined, said Jim Ehlbeck, Casella’s brother.
Most of those trees will end up in living rooms far away from Clark County by Christmas Day. Casella’s operation has customers in various parts of California, Arizona, and even as far away as Houston, she said.
Many are longtime buyers who run seasonal Christmas tree lots as a side venture to other businesses, she said.
Casella and Ehlbeck take a methodical approach to the tree harvest. Trees are cut and prioritized based on upcoming orders, then sorted and tagged by height and tree type.
Organized piles wait outside the Christmas Creek office until loading trucks — sometimes partially full from previous stops — come to haul them away.
Trucks shuffling their schedules can cause headaches for growers depending on what types of trees are ready, Casella said. So can wintry weather.
But amid all the uncertainty that goes with the business, there’s at least one constant that keeps the level of urgency high.
“Christmas still comes,” Casella said.