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The outlook for holiday greens growers and shippers is optimistic, I believe. It appears that our economy will slowly continue to improve and consumers will stay with the traditional customs of Christmas and decorate with fresh and fragrant greens.

Colors and designs will change, but the aroma of fresh cut holiday greens will always be a reminder of a once-a-year gathering of family and friends for a joyous holiday season. In good times and bad, this is one tradition that has always prevailed.

MARK-THOMPSONMark ThompsonAnother tradition that never seems to change: holiday greens companies enter the crunch time of a once-a-year harvest, processing and shipping marathon in the two-month run-up to Christmas. The Hiawatha Corp. (Hiawatha Evergreens) will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2013, so we know the drill. Like other shippers of fresh evergreen products worldwide, Christmas has always been the peak season for our business.

It’s like the mythical village in the musical comedy “Brigadoon” that surfaces once every 100 years, except that it happens every fall. At Hiawatha, we grow from 50 full-time employees to more than 800 workers, with temporary employees from October through December. We do 60 percent of our business during these six high-performance weeks leading up to Christmas.

Like most other suppliers, we harvest our Christmas greens in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia in Canada. All suppliers get their products in the same geographic areas — the trick that sets the quality firms apart is the ability to keep the Christmas greens fresh with cold-chain processing.

For instance, harvested greens should be transported in refrigerated trucks, stored in cooler facilities, packaged and shipped in refrigerated trucks. Proper care and handling is necessary to keep product fresher longer, so that they last through the holiday season and keep consumers happy.

Eco-friendly trends also hold true in the Christmas greens market. At Hiawatha, we have introduced a new line of products called GoGreener using biodegradable containers and all-natural accents in our centerpieces, hanging baskets and wreaths. Our company is MPS-ABC certified; an eco-friendly label recognized worldwide.

Environmentally friendly processes are good business, too. Proper cold-chain processing, for example, can do away with the need to use chemicals in the greens. These products are all-natural, fresh and fragrant for the holiday season.

Good harvesting practices can prevent damage to a forest and provide a sustained yield of bough material. On a mature tree, for example, cutting only 50 pounds of bough material, enough for about 10 wreaths, allows the tree to stay healthy so it will provide more material in the future.

Creating distinctive designs is more challenging these days. Partnering with dedicated fabricators has become important so suppliers can acquire customized components needed to remain elite in the market. Products need to change every few years to have new appeal, and greens suppliers must partner with customers to stay current with their needs and desires.

Holiday fashions and styles may change, but family ties grow stronger when the traditional display and fragrance of fresh greens reminds us of Christmases past and what Abraham Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory.” For those moments, it’s worth all the hassles of crunch time.

Mark Thompson is general manager of the Hiawatha Corp., located in Shelton, WA, and is a 21-year veteran of the greens industry. He can be reached by phone at 800/421-4791, ext. 117 or by email at mark@hiawathacorp.com.