Serving as a holiday staple for families worldwide, the Christmas tree holds a special significance for both the High Country and the state of North Carolina. Providing leadership and aiding in the success of the Christmas tree industry is the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association.

The association’s Executive Director, Jennifer Proffit Greene, is a native of Watauga County. On Nov. 1 of this year, she celebrated 12 years in her role. She loves her job and enjoys that each day brings with it new tasks, challenges and experiences. She serves as the face and public spokesperson of the NCCTA and is responsible for steering the organization and managing its day-to-day operations. She is also involved in any necessary event planning and manages staff and volunteers for events. Through her role, she says she was introduced to grant writing and administration and the NCCTA as a whole has received an estimated $500,000 in grants in the past 12 years.

Jennifer grew up on a small family farm, the same farm on which her father was raised. The family grew and harvested potatoes and always had between 25-30 horses, including quarter horses, mules, draft horses and riding horses. The first vehicle she drove was a tractor, learning to drive as she baled hay.

“I cherish all of those memories now, because they are really special to me,” Jennifer says. These were experiences that she says most people do not have during their upbringing and she feels very fortunate to have been raised on a family farm.

After graduating from high school, Jennifer worked in the restaurant business. She started at the bottom, eventually working her way up to management in the corporate restaurant atmosphere. She later transitioned into a marketing role for a local hotel company. During this time, her manager took her under her wing and gave Jennifer firsthand education in marketing and advertising.

After a decade of working in hotel and restaurant management, she decided it was time to pursue a new career path. During the process of searching job postings for months, she stumbled upon a posting in the classifieds for the position of executive director of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association. She was immediately intrigued.

“It was a job that I felt would allow me to utilize the marketing skills that I had acquired as well as an agricultural profession,” Jennifer says.

One of her favorite parts of her role as the executive director is the many opportunities and experiences that it provides. She has shaken the hands of presidents and first ladies multiple times. She has been to the White House four times with her job and will soon complete her fifth visit, as the 2021 White House Christmas Tree was selected from Peak Farms in Ashe County, NC. Jennifer has traveled all over the United States to go to nursery and consumer shows, promoting North Carolina Fraser Fir.

The mission of the NCCTA is to promote “real” Christmas trees through marketing and education. To attest to this, Jennifer spoke about the impact of the Christmas tree on the local economy and the disconnect experienced by people not knowing about a product and where it comes from.

“No matter where you buy a North Carolina Fraser fir Christmas tree — whether you go to a choose-and-cut farm, whether you go to a retail lot, whether you go to Food Lion or whether you go to Walmart or Home Depot — a farmer grew that. It is an agricultural crop,” Jennifer describes.

The North Carolina Christmas Tree Industry is ranked second in the nation in the number of trees harvested and produces more than 26 percent of the real Christmas trees grown in the U.S. North Carolina growers harvest more than 4 million trees annually.

Throughout the pandemic, the industry has worked hard to ensure that employees are protected while working and living in very close quarters.

Partnerships that have been instrumental in helping farms get through COVID-19 by educating workers and providing supplies are AppHealthCare, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, North Carolina Agromedicine Institute and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Jennifer, one of the positive impacts of the pandemic was the strengthening of these partnerships.

There has been a massive increase in demand for real Christmas trees in all sectors of the industry as a result of the pandemic.

“It's the nostalgia and the enjoyment of being able to pick out the tree as a family and being able to decorate as a family,” Jennifer says about the experience of choosing a tree for the holidays.

Jennifer anticipates that throughout this holiday season, not only the High Country, but the state and the nation will continue to see an increase in demand for the popular holiday centerpiece.

According to Jennifer, it has been a fantastic growing season this year. There has been abundant rainfall and as a result the crops look fantastic and are healthy.

She provided some tips for families who plan to set out in search of the perfect tree this holiday season and for years to come. It is important to note that the trees always look smaller on tree lots and outdoors, therefore, measuring the space in which you plan to place the tree is highly encouraged. While browsing for a Christmas tree, feeling the needles of the plant to ensure they hold up well and testing to see if the branches are sturdy is also recommended.

Some of the features that set the Fraser Fir species apart from others is its needle retention, blue-green color, aroma and sturdy branches, which are perfect for holding ornaments.

In her spare time, Jennifer is a passionate advocate for rescue dogs, particularly Pitbulls. She volunteers with the Merit Pitbull Foundation, a foster-based rescue. She and her husband, Nathan, often foster dogs and have two fur children of their own, Jade and Waylon.

Jennifer describes Nathan as her rock and says he has always been supportive of her job and how much she travels within her role. Jennifer also enjoys collecting antique jewelry and hopes to open a boutique of her own someday.

Additionally, she serves on the board for Watauga Women in Leadership and has been an active member of the organization for a few years. Jennifer has also served on the Wonder Women in Leadership Kahuna Team for Watauga Habitat for Humanity. She enjoys being involved in the group and meeting other women who serve in leadership roles throughout the community.

To learn more about the NCCTA, visit ncchristmastrees.com.

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