OLD BARNS - Local teenagers spent time in the brisk winter air yesterday, learning all about Christmas trees.
"I learned a lot - I was surprised to know that Christmas trees keep this well and are in this good a shape," said Alex Scott, one of 52 Grade 9 students from Bible Hill Junior High to spend most of their morning with Adrian Samson on part of his 150-acre tree lot in Old Barns. "It was my first time visiting a Christmas tree lot. This is the first time I've never done anything big with trees."
The students spent almost 90 minutes walking around the lot, learning about the process of foresting Christmas trees - from planting as seedlings to the shearing, to how to ship them to the United States.
"I've never really seen this good of a Christmas tree, to be honest," said Scott.
Social studies teacher Gilles Boudreau said he tries to get students out of the classroom wherever possible and thought it would be a good opportunity for them to see how industries work.
"Anytime I get the opportunity to bring the classroom outside, I do," said Boudreau. "It's a good chance for the students to see how these businesses or industries work, and how it feels. They seem to be more attentive."
For Hannah Rushton, 14, the opportunity was surprising.
"It was interesting to know how tall the trees actually do get and how long it takes to grow," she said. "I didn't know the way the trees grew and the buds spread out, and I thought it was just a fall and winter growth, but it really is year-round."
Before Samson took students for a loop around a small portion of the lot, he explained to them that the average tree - which is seven to eight feet - takes about eight to 10 years to actually grow to that height.
"And it's only sheared for five years," he told them, also explaining that the lot they were standing on was 25 acres and shared between the trees and power lines from Onslow.
"This is really the best use for me," said Samson, who has been growing trees for almost 35 years now. "My job is to make sure the trees don't grow too high (for the power lines)."
Through Samson, the students learned that, while the forest technician supplies trees locally, 95 per cent of the trees that are cut each year are actually shipped to the United States.
"It really is a big business," he explained. "It employs a lot of people. For some, it's more of a hobby."
Samson started when his now 33-year-old son was only six months old.
"I sent my first load to Cape Breton. I'm from Cape Breton and when I was home, I realized there wasn't a lot of trees supplied."
His first load he sent to his grandmother paid for his gas to travel to the island and back.
"I do enjoy it, it's good, healthy work."
Both Rushton and Scott admit their families haven't been putting a real tree up for the holidays.
"We used to put up a real tree, but we switched," said Scott, admitting one of the reasons many families go the artificial route is a cost-saving measure. "We are always late putting the tree up - usually around Dec. 20 and then it's up until February.
"But I might ask for a real tree for Christmas. That would be a really cool gift."
Although students didn't spend a full day on the lot, they did walk away with a newfound appreciation.
"It was a really great experience to be here instead of learning about it at school," said Rushton.
"And it was neat to see that something we forget about, like trees, are growing and learning, just like us," added Scott.
With his Christmas tree farms in both Old Barns and Greenfield, Samson can often be found selling the trees at the lot on Willow Street across from the old hospital.
"A lot of families that do come to the farm to pick out their tree remember that experience of going to pick out their tree," Samson said.