WEST JEFFERSON-A recent social media post ignited impassioned responses from several Ashe County residents on the impact the Christmas tree industry has made on the local economy.
By Saturday afternoon, a post emerged on the page that soon elicited a fury of responses that were both supportive and admonishing of the poster’s comment that initially appeared benign in intent.
“Just a word of caution to everyone in the High Country, especially Ashe County: Christmas Tree harvesting has begun and will continue for about the next five weeks,” said Daniel Suggs, who listed his originating residency as Bradenton, Fl. “Be extra aware on our narrow roads and have a plan to avoid an accident. There are hundreds of tractor trailers, trucks pulling loaded trailers, and tractors on our roads now and many of the drivers are not from around here. Give them plenty of room, or avoid unnecessary travel if you can. It doesn’t last that long and Christmas trees are the lifeblood of our area. Show them how friendly and courteous we are! It’s good for all of us.”
The responses that followed varied from agreement to cynical and bewilderment. While Suggs said his point was driver safety, the thread soon digressed into a debate about who profits the most about the tree industry and how it affects the local workforce.
“I thought the beauty of West Jefferson was our life blood,” wrote David Bartolini in response to Suggs’ initial post. “Now I am told it is the polluting, hazmat wearing spraying tree farmers. I am so lost.”
“Tree growers bring many millions of dollars into our local economy every year and they are heavily regulated,” Suggs fired back. “All sprays and fertilizers are mandated by the EPA. You should read up, before you spout off.”
Bartolini then took a more egolitarian viewpoint.
“Yes, they bring in millions of dollars and give it to the few, not the people that do the work,” he wrote. “Capitalism at its worst just like the politicians of today.”
“So I guess the folks who took a risk and started their own business/farm are not entitled to profit? Is that what you’re suggesting here?” Bobby Sheets, Jr. responded below the critique. “The people that do the work, agreed to the wage they are making. If they thought they weren’t compensated fairly for their labor, they have every right to look elsewhere for work.”
Other comments also questioned the monetary value of the tree industry and suggested low wages as the primary reason most locals do not seek employment at local tree farms.
Industry provided numbers tell a more thorough story of the tree industry.
According to a fact sheet from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Ashe County realized $85 million in Christmas trees and greenery production in 2015.
Also, there are more than 12,000 acres of land in Christmas trees and greenery production, making Ashe the largest tree producing county in the United States. More than 3.5 million trees were harvested in 2015.
Christmas trees provide 700 year round jobs and more than 2,000 jobs seasonally, according to the cooperative extension.
Farming remains the backbone of the local economy and Christmas trees are only part of the county’s leading industry, according the cooperative extension.
Effects of social media
Suggs post could be seen as just one example of how social media shapes the sharing of information and the interaction of posters, whose voices might otherwise go unheard.
In a realm where emotions on various subjects can run disproportionately high, candid opinions that are typically made without direct human interaction and from the safety of a computer screen are not that uncommon.
Ashe County In the Know has emerged as one of the community’s top message boards or conversational threads for those looking to engage in dialogue with like-minded individuals or for those venting their frustrations or concerns to anyone who might listen.
Unlike other local message boards, the page is without total anonymity and moderators freely control content through deletion of links and comments or could ban users altogether if their actions are not in line with the group’s mission of creating a feeling of virtual community. Users can not simply hide behind a screen name with an attached profile, which can also be created under false or misleading pretenses.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.