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Friday, December 24, 2010

Sonoma County: Graton Fire Department Selling Trees

Firefighters selling #Xmas trees

Heather O'Dell, manager of the Graton Fire Tree Farm,
bales a tree for a customer on Monday in Graton.

Credit: BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat
When the Graton Fire Protection District bought land for a new station, it inherited a Christmas tree farm as part of the deal.

“I don't think any of us would be running a tree farm until we bought this property and started talking to the county, and they told us the property had to stay in agriculture,” said Deputy Chief Bill Bullard.

Graton may be the only fire department with its own tree farm, said Heather O'Dell, who was hired by the department to maintain and manage the farm.

“It is very unusual and a huge opportunity. It is different and it goes with our county,” O'Dell said. “Sonoma County has always been very environmentally conscious.”

Four years ago, the fire district purchased the 9.2-acre Davis Tree Farm for $1.25 million as the site for its new fire station.

The land is on Highway 116 between Green Valley Road and Graton Road, which puts the station in the middle of the locations where firefighters have had to respond to calls for the past two years, Bullard said.

“It is the perfect location for us,” Bullard said.

The $3.52 million station is under construction and scheduled to open next spring.

As a condition of the use permit, six acres of the site, planted in redwoods, white fir, Douglas fir and white spruce, had to remain in agricultural use, Bullard said.

Shortly after buying the tree farm, the department decided to reopent it, even though it required maintenance and time and work to get the operation back into optimum shape, O'Dell said.

Some of the trees had Needle Cast, a disease that strikes conifers, which necessitated cutting out and burning the diseased trees.

Other trees were planted too close together and required thinning, O'Dell said.

O'Dell said the district will raise between 3,000 and 5,000 seedlings in a nursery next spring, which will be planted in the farm the following year.

As part of a fund-raiser, O'Dell said they are selling seedlings for $1, which entitles the buyer to put their name, memorial or other message on an aluminum tag to stay on the tree.

The first year the seedlings are planted in the farm, it will be like a treasure hunt for those trying to find their tree. Afterwards, buyers will will be able to watch their tree grow until it is harvested six to eight years later.

The tree farm is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sunday.

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