A local family’s commitment to excellence in Christmas tree farming has earned them U.S. presidential recognition for the third time.
Hedlund Trees, located off Schafer Park Road near Brady, is providing a handful of Christmas trees this year for the vice president’s residence located at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. The Hedlund family previously provided trees for former presidents Bill Clinton (1999) and George W. Bush (2002).
Family patriarch Ed Hedlund, who started his business from the ground up about 37 years ago, said he’s learned by trial and error over that timeframe and has always maintained a commitment to producing the best quality trees he can.
“That was my goal – always to do quality trees as opposed to quantity,” Hedlund says.
The competitive bug bit Hedlund in 1988 after a second-place finish at the National Christmas Tree Association’s national contest in Bangor, Maine, setting him up for his later first-place finishes that garnered him White House honors.
Participants must first win at the state level in order to be eligible for nationals, and in recent years Hedlund acknowledged his competitive desires have waned.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of effort to try to compete at that level,” he said.
That changed recently now that Hedlund’s daughter-in-law and his 29-year-old son, Thomas, have plans to take over the family business. Hedlund said his son, who was just 11 and 14 when the family won their earlier awards, has been the recent driver behind the family’s return to national competition.
Nationals were held this year in August in Green Bay, Wis. The Hedlunds’ tree was air-freighted to Green Bay while the family took a red-eye flight in order to meet it in time. Hedlund said the summer weather made it a challenge to keep their tree in tip-top shape for competition.
Nevertheless, they prevailed, finishing as reserve grand champions and earning the honor of providing trees for the VP’s house. A Wisconsin producer took the grand champion spot and with it the right to provide trees for the White House.
One of the perks of winning is a trip East to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, which includes a dinner at the VP’s residence and a tour of the White House.
Though Hedlund indicated he already has photos with the Clinton and Bush families, he said this year’s trip remains a special one since his daughter-in-law has never been to D.C. and his son was so young when he made the previous journeys.
The Hedlund’s trees – which include a main tree for inside the VP residence plus four more trees – were cut and shipped on Nov. 13 and were scheduled to arrive in D.C. on Nov. 20. Trucking firm Old Dominion Freight Line provided shipping free of charge.
But the life of a tree farmer isn’t all dinner parties and glamour, Hedlund admitted. Indeed, the family was hard at work outside on a rainy day when they met with The Vidette.
Hedlund said that while he does hire limited seasonal labor, the business is mostly a family affair. He described his operation as mid-sized compared to other producers and the work in general as very labor-intensive.
“It’s a whole business in itself compared to even timber crop,” Hedlund said, adding that producers often are faced with years of operation before startup costs can be recouped and profits can begin to be made.
“It you’re lucky it’s eight or ten years down that road before that tree is going to be marketable, sometimes longer,” he said.
In addition to selling wholesale to buyers around the world, the Hedlund’s maintain a choose-and-cut lot near Brady for area residents.