Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Where Balsam Tree Boughs Become Wreaths

It might seem a landscape, irrigation and garden center makes its money in the summer. But about half of a Ham Lake company's $11 million annual sales is from its holiday wreath division.

Originally published December 20, 2006

By Sarah Moran, Staff Writer, Star Tribune

More than half a million of the country's Christmas wreaths this year come from Ham Lake.

About 4 million pounds of balsam fir and pine boughs, mostly from Minnesota, flooded Mickman Brothers landscaping and garden center in October.

That's a big batch of boughs, but don't worry: There will be another crop next year. As part of the company's focus on conservation, almost all the bundles are balsam fir, which keeps growing after branches are harvested.

After the branches descend upon the landscape business, about 100 employees, 250 temporary workers and 100 families working at their homes in northern Minnesota turn the boughs into beautiful wreaths.

When they're finished, those wreaths end up in the hands of 3,000 fundraising groups a year, from an aquatic booster club in California to a Boy Scout Troop in Pennsylvania.

Since the wreath operation started at Mickman Bros. in 1977, those organizations have earned more than $40 million in profits to fund their activities, said John Mickman, president of Mickman Brothers.

And, of course, the company has benefited - about half of Mickman Brothers' $11 million annual gross sales is from its wreath division.

Wreath manufacturing is about a $30 million industry in Minnesota. But without conservation efforts, the industry could have gone the way of the overharvested and now rare king crab in the Bering Sea, Mickman said.

In the early 1980s, Mickman and other leaders in the business went to the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with their concerns about forest regeneration in Minnesota.

There are two types of evergreen trees: pine and fir. Pine trees have buds on the tips of their branches. If those tips are cut off, there is no more growth. Fir trees, however, grow buds on the tips and along the stems. So cutting just the end of those trees means the tree can continue to grow and be harvested in another three to five years.

A group called the Balsam Bough Partnership formed in the late 1980s. It included wreath manufacturers, bough buyers, harvesters, land owners, the U.S. Forest Service, the state DNR, Indian reservations and counties.

The group went to the Legislature and got some changes starting in the early 1990s. Balsam bough buyers, who usually pay harvesters for their boughs and then sell them to companies such as Mickman Brothers, now need annual licenses. They are regularly inspected to make sure they're accepting only boughs that were properly harvested.

Harvesters had always been required to have permits, but the new laws required harvesters to show written permission from property owners to the buyers.

"There's a number of important reasons [to conserve] from a perspective outside the wreath industry because much of the forest land that the boughs are harvested off is public land," Mickman said. "If we have a big impact on the forest, it makes it less valuable for other users, and eventually we won't be able to harvest boughs there anymore.


  • 4 million pounds of balsam fir and pine are used each year to make wreaths.
  • More than 500,000 wreaths are sold every Christmas season.
  • 49 states receive wreaths from the company.
  • 95 percent of wreath sales are to fundraising organizations.
  • $40 million has been raised by fundraising groups since Mickman Brothers started the wreath division in 1977.

Copyright 2006 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

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