NORTH ABINGTON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Larry Snyder has won numerous awards for his Christmas trees over the years, including grand champion at the 2018 Pennsylvania Farm Show.
But the honor that Snyder earned on Aug. 9 left him speechless.
A Douglas fir from Snyder’s Mahantongo Valley Farms, in Schuylkill County, was named grand champion at the National Christmas Tree Association’s competition, held in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association summer meeting at Roba Family Farms.
The designation, which was determined by votes from more than 200 tree producers at the meeting, means that Snyder will present a tree from his farm to President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump, which will be delivered to the White House around Thanksgiving.
There are standards for the selected tree: It must be 20 feet tall and perfect on all sides since it will be displayed in the middle of the Blue Room. Snyder’s tree was one of six in the running, competing against another tree from Pennsylvania, two from Maryland and two from New Jersey.
But before Snyder, 68, could absorb all the details, he had to take in the magnitude of what he had just accomplished.
“This may be the most shocked I’ve been in all my life,” Snyder said after the votes were announced. “I’m happy, and I’m sure my family and the state association will be happy as well to have another Pennsylvania tree in the White House.”
Snyder’s tree is the 10th from Pennsylvania to be chosen for the White House since 1966. Last year’s White House Christmas tree was a Fraser fir from North Carolina.
One person who knows the importance of providing a Christmas tree for the White House is Chris Botek, president of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association.
Botek, who owns Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Lehighton, won the national contest three times, providing a tree for the White House in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Botek also provided trees on two other occasions when the national winners didn’t have a tree that met the size requirements on their farms.
“It’s an amazing feeling. To be here and win the national contest is one thing, then to present a tree to the first lady, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Botek said. “To provide the nation’s Christmas tree is an honor and a privilege.”
It’s also the beginning of a hectic sequence of events for the grand champion grower.
In September, officials from the White House — usually the chief usher and superintendent of grounds — will visit Snyder’s farm near Pitman to select a tree. They will look for a tree with the proper shape, color and height, along with the tree’s branch arrangement for displaying ornaments. Branches that form in layers with plenty of space in between for decorations are best, Botek said.
After that, the tree will be delivered to the White House on the Monday before Thanksgiving, where it will be prepared for a lavish ceremony days later.
Snyder and his family will be front and center during the entire process, and they’ll also be highly sought after by the media.
“This is probably the most publicized agricultural event anywhere in the U.S.,” said Paul Schroeder, president of the National Christmas Tree Association. “The media will come calling.”
And business may boom.
Dave Vander Velden, a Wisconsin grower who raises 140 acres of trees on his Whispering Pines Tree Farm, won the national contest in 2016. He presented a balsam fir to the White House and said his business picked up significantly as a result.
“It’s like winning the Super Bowl and a gold medal at the Olympics. For a tree grower, it doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “You become known as the farm that grew a tree for the White House.”
This year, Vander Velden was named reserve grand champion and will present a tree to the vice president in 2020. Champion growers are determined for two-year periods at the national meeting, and West Virginia grower Dan Taylor will present the White House tree in 2020.
John Wyckoff of New Jersey will present a tree to Vice President Mike Pence this year.
Typically, the champion tree is accepted by the first lady’s office and the president isn’t too involved in the process.
But things were a little bit different last year, according to Ann O’Connor, director of programs and membership for the National Christmas Tree Association.
O’Connor accompanied the 2018 winner, Larry Smith of North Carolina, to the White House to present the tree. President Trump was there to meet Smith and participated in the entire ceremony, O’Connor said.
Snyder doesn’t know who he’ll meet when he takes a tree to the White House in November, but for now he’s content to enjoy the honor, which will take time to sink in.
“It might take a while because I really can’t believe it,” Snyder said. “It’s just an incredible feeling knowing that one of my trees will be in the White House this Christmas.”