By Tim Gardner
Avery County has long been known as one of “The Christmas Tree Capitals of the World.” Therefore, it seems only fitting that a Christmas tree grower from the county will supply The White House Christmas tree.
Larry Smith of Mountain Top Fraser Fir in Newland was recently awarded the 2018 Grand Champion designation at the National Christmas Tree Association’s Christmas Tree Contest in Green Bay, Wisconsin, giving him the honor of providing the official White House Christmas tree.
Since 1966, members of the NCTA have presented the official White House Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room. Every other year the NCTA hosts a national tree contest at which growers, industry experts and consumers vote to select the Real Christmas Tree grower who will provide the official White House Christmas Tree and as well as one for the Vice President’s residence. To qualify for the national contest, growers must first win their state or regional competitions, so being named National Grand Champion is a significant achievement. 2018 marks the 53rd year a member from the National Christmas Tree Association has presented the official White House Christmas Tree.
White House Staff members will select the Official 2018 Blue Room Christmas Tree on Monday morning, September 24, at Smith’s Mountain Top Fraser Fir Farm in Newland.
The selected tree will be harvested Wednesday, November 14, 2018. Smith then will travel to Washington, D.C. and present First Lady Melania Trump with a Real Fraser Fir Christmas Tree for display in the White House Blue Room on November 19, 2018.
Smith became a Christmas tree growing prodigy when he was a teenager. His interest was influenced by Avery County High School history teacher and assistant football coach Doug Clark, who raised Christmas trees. Smith felt inspired to try growing a few himself.
With money he’d earned mowing yards and helping a brick mason, Smith bought seedlings and planted them on his parents’ property in 1977, his senior year of high school. He set out 250 Fraser Firs and has continued growing trees every year since.
After high school, Smith earned a degree in turf management at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory. He then worked at Grandfather Golf and Country Club followed by employment at Linville Golf Club. All the while he tended his trees and grew his business. Smith became a full-time tree farmer in 1982. He has retailed trees, wreaths and garland since 1980.
Smith has three grown sons who were raised on the farm and knows life only on a tree lot from Thanksgiving through Christmas. After five attempts in the National Tree Contest, Smith said: “I feel as though I have finally won the Super Bowl. It’s a great honor to represent the Christmas tree industry by providing the Official White House Christmas Tree in 2018.”
He provided the first Christmas tree to former United States Vice President Dick Cheney after his residence was moved to the Washington, D.C.’s Naval Observatory from the Blair House following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Smith also is the tree grower who won the honor of providing the Christmas trees that stood in the Rotunda of the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh and in former Governor Pat McCrory’s office in 2015.
Larry Smith’s older brother, Lynn, who has his own Avery County tree-growing business, also has provided a Christmas tree for a top government official in 2015. The elder Smith grew the tree that decorated the entrance to Raleigh’s Hawkins-Hartness House where Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest’s office is located.
Those three trees were a 13-footer for the Rotunda and two 9-footers for the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s offices.
A member of the North Carolina and National Christmas Tree Associations, Larry Smith grows his trees using environmentally friendly techniques. He is a great steward of the land and water, wanting the next generation to continue with sustainable farming. He cited his only regret as that his father didn’t live long enough for them to enjoy this honor together.
Other Avery County Christmas tree farmers also have provided The White House Christmas tree, reportedly as far back as 1934. According to the Durham, NC Morning Herald, two balsam trees from Avery County were then “ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the White House Christmas celebration.” One tree came from the property of O.B. Bear, and the other from Newland mayor A.W. Ray.
Beau and Rusty Estes of Ashe County were the contest winners to provide a tree for Vice President Mike Pence’s residence for Christmas of 2018.
This is the second time the Estes were honored, as they provided a Fraser fir for the White House Blue Room in 2009 and 2012.