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this summer
that all
those merry
Christmases that I've
had, have been filled with
injustice and
exploitation and
suffering from the people
who make those Christmases merry;
farmworkers, who live
their lives on the Christmas
tree fields, so we can enjoy the
Christmas spirit, spraying toxic, harmful pesticides
that are taking away their
health; living in poor conditions for those
who only care about getting the perfect Christmas tree
so we can have the merriest Christmas.
Next time you go out and buy a Christmas
tree, think of all that you are purchasing: the tree, the
pesticides and, more importantly, the lives of farmworkers who are
here pursuing
the "American
Dream". Not all
of them make the
dream come true
but they work
hard and honestly
for their families;
let's not forget
that this Christmas.

-Ramiro Arceo
1996 SAF Intern

Toxic Hazards Under the Tree this Year for Farmworkers

by Alejandra Okie and Melinda Wiggins

During the summer of 1996, Ramiro Arceo traveled to North Carolina from California to participate in Student Action with Farmworkers' (SAF) "Into the Fields" internship program. Raised in a farmworking family, Ramiro was personally aware of the realities faced by migrant farmworkers. Through the Student Action with Farmworkers' internship program, Ramiro educated others about the living and working conditions of farmworkers and learned about the conditions of Christmas tree workers in Western North Carolina.

The Perfect Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are produced in all 50 states. They are grown by approximately 15,000 farmers and more than 100,000 farmworkers and other employees. Prior to the 1950's, most Christmas trees were cut from the forest. Today, more than 90 percent are grown on farms. Therefore, Christmas tree production is now an industry, with important implications for the environment.

North Carolina is ranked second in the nation in the number of trees harvested, having more than 2,000 growers in the far Western 18 counties. The majority of Christmas trees grown in North Carolina are Frasier firs, and the projected wholesale revenues from their sale is approximately $100 million.

The average Christmas tree matures in 7 to 10 years, and the average retail height is 6 to 8 feet. Herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and growth regulators are used on most Christmas trees. In fact, there are approximately 40 different pesticides that are recommended for tree production. Most local specialists who advise Christmas tree growers recommend the use of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers. Though it is difficult to grow Christmas trees without the use of chemical additives, growers have successfully done so.

All That You Are Purchasing

Farmworkers are especially at risk to the dangers of pesticides, because most live adjacent to the fields where chemicals are sprayed and they consume groundwater containing runoff from the fields. Workers also mix pesticides that usually have labels in English, which Spanish speaking farmworkers cannot understand. Workers receive little training in applying the pesticides, and many work in the fields during and/or immediately after pesticides are applied.

Workers that handle pesticides routinely are not included as members in the North Carolina Pesticide Board, which is designated to regulate the use of pesticides by enforcing existing regulations, advising people about pesticides, and adopting new pesticide rules. The Pesticide Board is a component of the Department of Agriculture, and is therefore not under the direct guidance of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose main purpose is to address environmental concerns.

What Can You Do?

Because of pesticides' effects on health, including cancer, birth defects, sterility and skin rashes, as well as the environment, such as soil and groundwater pollution, SAF promotes pesticide education for farmworkers, farmers, communities and consumers. We all need to be aware of the possible risks of pesticides and what precautions should be taken to ensure that our families, as well as the land and water, are healthy.

SAF encourages communities to become informed about the use of pesticides on Christmas trees, as well as fruits and vegetables. Many local farmers in North Carolina are beginning to grow organic products and/or utilize practices such as integrated pest management. These growers need your support to continue their efforts in protecting the environment for the next generation.

This holiday season, consider supporting organic Christmas tree growers. To place an order for an organic white pine Christmas tree grown in the mountains of North Carolina, call SAF at (919) 660-3652 and send a check for $40 payable to SAF, PO Box 90803, Durham, NC 27708 before November 29. Trees must be picked up at the SAF office in Durham on December 7.

Alejandra Okie is the SAF Program Director. She is a graduate of Appalachian State University and a master's candidate at North Carolina State University. Melinda Wiggins is the SAF Executive Director. She has a Masters Degree in Theological Studies and serves on the board of the North Carolina Farmworkers' Project.

Information for this article was provided by the North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers Association, the Nation Christmas Tree Association, and the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.

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