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Placerville Christmas Tree Farm Keeps Tradition Alive Through Drought And Fire

PLACERVILLE (CBS13) — At a third-generation Christmas tree farm in Placerville, there is no problem that goes unsolved may it be drought, water restrictions, or wildfire — the McGee Family knows their farm is part of other families' holiday traditions.

That promise to provide the Christmas staple of a tree, made by Eli McGee's grandparents before he was born, is what he says makes the problems and the sometimes-elusive solutions worth it. He took over the McGee Christmas Tree Farm six months ago in the spring. His father, Mike, is still his go-to for advice, but he's making his own way, too.

"It's always something, whether it's a pest you have, or a new weed problem, or new growth problem. Farming is just figuring out what problems you have and how to solve them," said McGee. 

The impacts of California's statewide drought are felt by McGee when he recalls how seedlings did this year. He planted some in February 2021, and 80% of those new plantings died. Maybe it was too dry, maybe too hot for too many days in a row, but now, McGee said, he has to try something new.

"After we planted in February, there was not much rain falling to keep those moisturized and healthy," said McGee. 

Then came irrigation, but there were water restrictions, too.

To grow new trees faster, McGee utilizes stump culturing, which means he's able to grow new trees from the stumps of trees that have been cut. In some cases, the practice cuts down growing time from upwards of a decade to 4-6 years.

"The earlier we can sell a tree, the earlier we can get that stump culture going and get another one back," said McGee. 

Then, the Caldor Fire burned through the family's satellite farm in Grizzly Flats, destroying five acres of the farm's trees they would bring to the Placerville location to sell.

The farm, now referred to as a satellite location to supplement trees grown in Placerville, was the McGee's original farm. McGee said his grandparents were surrounded by evergreens and started selling. As their business grew, it stayed in the family.

"I've always been heavily involved in the sales side. It's a full family effort. We have my aunts and sisters and cousins help out during the actual sale season," said McGee. 

Guided through new, or old, challenges in farming, McGee said he looks to his Dad, and the industry does, too. Mike was diagnosed in 2015 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, but McGee stays positive.

"Right now, I'm just doing the best I can to learn from him and learn all that off-season stuff that I don't have as much experience with," said McGee. 

The McGee Christmas Farm is scheduled to be open for five days beginning Thanksgiving weekend, but McGee said they will only be able to stay open as long as they have trees to sell.

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