For the third time, the tree farm near Lehighton has won the national honor to supply the White House Christmas tree, this time coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the family-run business.
“It’s humbling for me to know that one of our trees will be the national Christmas tree once again,” said Chris Botek, who owns Crystal Spring Tree Farm. “People from all over the world will see this tree. We’re the only grower in the state to win this more than twice. It’s hard to believe, especially coming on our 50th anniversary.”
Last month, a Douglas fir from Crystal Spring was selected as the grand champion among the 12 trees entered into the final round of the National Christmas Tree and Wreath Contests in Allegan, Mich. Since 1966, the annual competition – judged by growers, industry experts and consumers – has determined which tree farm will supply the White House Christmas tree. Since that time, eight Christmas trees have come from Pennsylvania farms.
In October, White House representatives will select an 18.5-foot-tall tree from Botek’s farm for the Blue Room, where the president receives guests, heads of state and members of Congress. Trees from Crystal Spring will also be selected for the Oval Office and the first family’s private residence.
Crystal Spring won the same honor in 2006 and 2010 and the unofficial honor last year, when the winning tree farm couldn’t supply a tree tall enough to fill out the Blue Room’s high ceiling. Douglas firs were selected each time. Over the years, Botek’s farm has also supplied Christmas trees for Rockefeller Center in New York City and the state capitol rotunda in Harrisburg.
It all started when Botek’s grandfather began selling Christmas trees in the 1930s from the front of the family’s corner grocery store. That inspired a family-wide interest in Christmas trees and a purchase of a couple acres to grow Scotch pines, another popular Pennsylvania Christmas tree.
Then in 1964, Crystal Spring Tree Farm was born when Botek’s parents, Francis and Margaret, bought a former 25-acre dairy farm in the beautiful Mahoning Valley. Today, Crystal Spring grows about 15 varieties of evergreens on more than 250 acres.
“My grandparents would be so proud of where we are today,” Botek said. “We’re still really a modest mom-and-pop operation. I know each of our customers by name.”
Like any agricultural enterprise, Botek said, tree farms are at the mercy of Mother Nature. “It’s not an easy business,” he said. “It requires a lot of hours and care to produce a quality product.”
What Botek loves most about his line of work is watching families come to his farm to select their centerpiece for the holidays.
“You start thinking about how you cared for those trees and how families will enjoy them during this very special time of year,” he said. “Most people gather around their tree on Christmas morning, and kids’ faces are lit up. The epicenter of that morning is around that tree. It’s pretty amazing.”