NEWLAND — A local Christmas tree farmer has been awarded a rare opportunity: One of his trees will be featured in the White House.
Larry Smith has been farming Christmas trees since 1977, and full time since 1982. Smith was the winner of The National Christmas Tree Association’s 2018 national contest, which he has attempted five times. Association members have provided the tree housed in the White House’s Blue Room since 1966.
Smith said he enjoys working outside and being his own boss. He added he would make the same choice again.
“I couldn’t stand being behind a desk,” Smith said.
On Monday, Sept. 24, the official tree selection was made during a press event at Smith’s Mountain Top Fraser Fir farm in Newland. The occasion featured speakers from the national and state Christmas tree associations, Smith and some other notable locals.
During his speech at the event, Smith expressed his sadness over his father, who has passed away and was not able to enjoy the experience.
Smith and his family assembled and decorated an all-original antique Piedmont wagon for the event, which has been in the family for decades.
After the speeches, White House Chief Usher Timothy Harleth and White House Grounds Superintendent Dale Haney perused some of the trees before making their official selection.
Local celebrity and Avery County Director of Planning and Inspections Tommy Burleson delivered an invocation at the tree while Smith was surrounded by his family.
The event was mostly attended by media members, officials and Smith’s family. A hayride to the part of the farm the tree was selected from was offered to those in attendance.
The tree will be harvested on Nov. 14 and presented to First Lady Melania Trump by Smith on Nov. 19.
Smith said he began competing in the the mid 1980s and his first national contest was in 2000. He said he was disqualified from that competition when the trucking company transporting his entry arrived 30 minutes late to the competition.
“I’ve stayed at it,” Smith said.
While a large tree is selected for the White House, competitors at association contests enter trees that are the size you would typically see in a family’s living room. While many of the large trees look impressive, they weren’t always that way. Smith said the large trees on his farm were not beautiful when they were small and not worth harvesting.
Christmas tree farms are a major industry in the High Country. Smith has farms in Newland and Banner Elk which are centennial farms, meaning they have been farmed for more than 100 years. Smith said the farms allow the landscape to be preserved rather than developed.
“It’s been good to me and the county, really as a whole,” Smith said.
When asked how he felt about the experience after the fact, Smith’s only comment was “pretty cool.”
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