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FFA Christmas tree project takes detour

RONAN – An annual Christmas season project could have ended in ruin for Mission Valley FFA students when the trees for their annual fundraiser didn’t arrive, but their teacher had a backup plan.

Instructor Reese McAlpin had to tell his students the delivery truck bringing the trees wasn’t coming like it usually did a week after Thanksgiving. “An ongoing nightmare of things going wrong caused the problem,” he said.

The project started out normally enough. A truck was lined up to bring 100 farm-raised trees to the school from Spokane, but the trees weren’t ready, and the driver couldn’t wait.

“A national tree shortage caused the delay,” McAlpin said. The problem was the result of a ripple effect in the tree industry. About 10 years ago, the economy took a nosedive and people stopped buying as many trees, so many tree farmers cut back on production. 

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, it takes an average of 10 years for a tree to reach seven to eight feet tall, so many farmers didn’t have as many trees this year. 

McAlpin figured he would just find another truck driver to bring the trees to the school when they were ready, but he was hit with another economic issue. When the oil business was booming, trucks were regularly available, but not anymore. The only driver he could find to haul 100 trees wanted around $3,000 for the job, which would take about all of the profits the kids usually collect from the project.

McAlpin was able to purchase about 20 wild trees but that wasn’t enough to support the project, so he also ordered tree boughs, and pulled a wreath-making machine out of the closet during the first school week in December. 

Student Matson McClure, 16, explained how the machine worked while standing in front of a table full of spruce tree boughs on Thursday evening. He pointed toward a line of students and said they were working together to arrange a handful of spruce pieces. The students in the assembly line handed the bundles off to McClure so he could put them on a metal ring. 

Once the greenery was in place, he pushed down on a pedal with his foot. The action caused a devise to clamp a metal prong down over the greens. This process was done about 20 times to create a circle of green spruce.

Kyia Hendrickson, sophomore, organized dozens of ornaments at another table. She said the students planned to sell the wreaths during a community wreath-decorating project on Sunday. People purchased the wreaths for about $15 and were able to choose ornaments to decorate them for a few extra dollars. 

Mission Valley FFA President Courtnee Clairmont is a senior at the high school. She said the Christmas tree project is the club’s biggest fundraiser. They sold fresh corn on the cob during the Ronan Harvest Festival, but they really depend on the tree project. The proceeds are used to fund several trips across Montana where the students compete in career development events concerning agriculture, agronomy, food science, mechanics, veterinary science, communications, and others.

The name of the club once stood for Future Farmers of America but now only the abbreviated title FFA is used to reflect a growing program that has added things like communication and marketing to their list of activities. 

Clairmont said she has learned about food supply while in the club. She added that the world’s population is supposed to reach around 9 billion by 2050.

“Our generation has a lot of decisions to make in the agriculture field,” she said. “We are going to have to figure out how to have enough food for the future.” 

The students still have decorated wreaths for sale, call McAlpin at 406-212-7594.

“We are a long way from our goal this year and might need to do more fundraising in the spring.”     

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