JEFFERSON — Christmas at the White House has been an extravagant event for years and Ashe County has been no stranger to fulfilling the First Lady’s tree selection with the finest fraser firs the country has to offer.

Peak Farms from Ashe County was selected as the 2021 winner with a 30-year-old and approximately 19-foot-tall tree.

In previous years, Ashe County tree farmers have been chosen as the Grand Champions of the National Christmas Tree Association Tree Contest — more specifically in 2008 and 2012 when a native county tree was placed in the Blue Room of the White House for former First Ladies Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.

This year, Rusty and son Beau Estes, owners of Peak Farms located in Jefferson, were the Grand Champions for the selection of the White House’s Blue Room Christmas tree. The Estes clan were also the providers in 2008 and 2012 for previous presidents as well as in 2018 when a selection was made for the vice president’s residence.

Peak Creek Farms has grown trees since 1979 and now have over 400,000 Christmas trees growing on their farms as a multi-generational family operation.

The honor of presenting a Christmas tree to the White House is earned by being named Grand Champion Grower of NCTA’s National Tree Contest, which has been going on since 1966. The tree itself must be between 18 and 19 feet tall to reach the ceiling of The Blue Room. In August, the Estes clan received the title of Grand Champion as they entered the fraser fir contest.

White House Superintendent of Grounds Dale Haney has been picking and choosing the tree since the beginning of his role, saying he was more than honored to have Ashe County represent this year’s Christmas celebration.

Executive Director of the National Christmas Tree Association Tim O’Connor opened up the ceremony praising the Estes’ farm for their beautiful trees and third title of Grand Champion.

“This is the 56th year that a member of the National Christmas Tree Association has presented the official tree to the White House,” O’Connor said. “It’s a wonderful thing that we really enjoy doing, it’s an important opportunity for the industry, it’s a wonderful partnership with the White House and we continue to appreciate and enjoy that.

“Beau and Rusty have now won this event three times. That means they’ve been an incredible National Champion Grower. This ties them with two other farms in the country that have had three trees go to the White House. This is a layered contest and is not open to the public. You first have to compete at your state or regional Christmas Tree Association and win, then moving on as the state organization enters you into the National Contest. Congratulations to Peak Farms.”

North Carolina Christmas Tree Executive Director Jennifer Greene then took to the podium to express her gratitude to the White House and Peak Farms for offering up a wonderful selection of trees.

“North Carolina is very proud to be a 14 time champion of the National Christmas Tree Association Contest,” said Greene. “That honor is credited to our hard-working, passionate and dedicated Christmas tree growers. I’m thrilled that North Carolina will once again provide a fraser fir Christmas tree for the White House. Fraser firs are native to the southern Appalachian Mountains and it represents 94 percent of the Christmas trees grown in North Carolina. As the executive director for the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, it’s my honor to be a very small part of such a large industry that contributes to the economic and agricultural success of North Carolina, while bringing smiles to children’s and families faces.”

Travis Birdsell, NC Cooperative Extension Director, then stepped up to give a brief history and congratulations to the winners of this year’s contest.

“We are gathered here to witness the selection of the perfect tree for the most famous house in the country,” Birdsell said. “We can call this a win for the home team. It takes years of hard work, time and care to get a tree ready for Christmas. It must be cared for all-year round. This tree that will be selected will be the eighth from Ashe County and the third from the Estes family. At any given moment, Ashe County could be the largest Christmas tree producing county in the entire country, with over 24 million trees in production. Our collaborative partnerships allow farmers resources to support the largest economic commodity in Ashe County. This is our community and this is indeed the coolest corner of North Carolina.”

Joe Shimel, Park Superintendent at New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, then kicked off the tree selection by introducing the Estes Family and Dale Haney.

“This is a very unique partnership that was created a few years ago and we can manage this seed orchard that you’re in,” said Shimel. “It’s been a neat opportunity to be able to work with this guys and I’m glad we can do it.”

Rusty and Beau then introduced their family, including Riley, Colin, Ann, Amanda and Katie.

“This is such a special occasion,” said Rusty Estes. “We’re blessed to get to do what we do and we’re proud to represent Ashe County and the rest of the country in presenting the tree this year to the First Lady.”

Haney then began the selection journey and led the group on a walk-through to take a look at some of their favorite trees.

After mazing through the trees and taking looks at a few possible contenders, Haney chose the 30-year-old fraser fir. The tree itself has a width and height desirable for the Blue Room centerpiece and both Haney and Estes said they were pleased with this year’s selection.

The tree will make its way to the White House in November.

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