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Environment

Local Christmas tree farm offers sustainable way to enjoy holiday season

In the hills of Ramona, amid the groves of avocados and wineries, sits a small Christmas tree farm.

It's one of the few places in San Diego where people can come to pick out their Christmas tree, have it cut down and take it home.

Alessandro Gallone and his family have owned the Highland Valley Christmas Tree Farm since 2006. Initially, the family had planned to convert it all to a winery.

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Principe di Tricase wines on display at Highland Valley Christmas Tree Farm, which is also a winery where the wine is produced, Dec. 5, 2023
Alexander Nguyen
/
KPBS
Principe di Tricase wines on display at Highland Valley Christmas Tree Farm, which is also a winery where the wine is produced, Dec. 5, 2023

“When we purchased the property, we had the mindset of making wine and we've done that since," Gallone said. "In those first years, there was a lot of customers that came to us saying, 'Hey, we've been coming here for years, generations. I grew up coming out to this farm and please don't get rid of the Christmas trees it's part of our tradition.'”

Gallone said the family keeps the tree farm going for those customers. While the rest of the land is reserved for growing grapes for winemaking, two acres of the property is dedicated to growing Christmas trees.

Tradition was what led Poway resident Ted Anderson to the farm. He wanted to pick out and cut down his own tree — something he hadn’t done since he was a teenager living in Colorado.

At $20 per foot, Anderson said it can be cheaper too.

“That was part of the reason that pushed me in this direction," he said. "We can get a taller tree for a little less price. I'm looking for a 10 to 12-foot tree, and this seemed very reasonable up this way.”

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With inflation and shortages caused by climate change, Christmas tree prices have gone up. In 2021, a 6-foot tree at some San Diego lots was around $80. This year some lots are selling them closer $125.

It takes a sapling about 5-6 years to reach about 6 feet in height, ready to be harvested, so one bad growing season could cause a disruption in the supply.

Gallone has already started to see the effect of a warming climate on his trees. With the summer getting hotter and winter getting colder, the Monterey pines he grows are starting to suffer.

"The needle tips will start going a bit more orangey with the heat. They'll get burned," Gallone said. "But also, there's a little worm that'll get into the tree tips, and it'll affect them a lot more."

Alessandro Gallone (center) helping his customer, Ted Anderson, load the freshly cut Christmas tree onto a dolly, Dec. 5, 2023.
Alexander Nguyen
/
KPBS
Alessandro Gallone (center) helping his customer, Ted Anderson, load the freshly cut Christmas tree onto a dolly, Dec. 5, 2023.

Gallone grows both Leland cypress and Monterey pine trees. The Leland cypress seems to fare better with the changing climate. Gallone has started experimenting growing other species of pine to see if it will fare better.

But buying a live tree from a local farm can help offset some of the carbon emissions of transporting trees from the Pacific Northwest. Most cut trees come from Washington and Oregon.

“The ones that are here, they're in the ground, they're growing, they're adding to our local air quality,” Gallone said.

That's the reason why Ramona resident Shasta Lavigne and her son, Ian Miller, came to Highland Valley to pick out their Christmas tree for their apartment.

"(We) just want it to have it just feel country, like it came from the earth instead of just your big lots where they're already precut," she said. "So it just seemed like a nice little activity to do after school.”

Gallone said his trees are also grown without pesticides, so it’s better for the environment.

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