The traditional colors, fragrances, and flavors of the holiday season simply wouldn't be the same if it wasn't for Oregon agriculture. 'Tis the season to highlight the many ways the state's $4.9 billion agriculture industry contributes to the festivities this time of year.
"Without Oregon, the season would be drab," says Laura Barton, trade manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "Oregon agriculture adds the greens, the reds, and the holiday cheer."
With so many specialty crops produced in Oregon, it should come as no surprise that a number of the state's 220-plus commodities fit into a special season like Christmas. Many of the icons of the holiday season can be connected to Oregon. Christmas trees, holly, Christmas greenery, poinsettias, reindeer, peppermint candy canes, and even that great traditional holiday gift of food- the fruitcake- all owe a great deal to Oregon producers, who are working overtime right now in order to supply the market.
Oregon remains number one in the nation in the production of Christmas trees with 7.9 million trees sold in 2007 and a production value of $114 million. Oregon Christmas trees are found in homes and offices in virtually all U.S. states and a number of foreign countries. Most of the trees exported from Oregon made their journey across the border in November but some were shipped this month.
Without Oregon, the holidays would perhaps be a shade of brown instead of green. Holly from both Oregon and Washington dominate the supply of holly found throughout the U.S. and the world. Along with Christmas trees and holly, Christmas greenery is an industry in itself as Oregon-made wreaths, door swags, and garlands find their way into the homes of Americans nationwide. Ask any florist where most of their greenery originated and they will give you the answer- Oregon.
Another popular seasonal plant has roots planted firmly in Oregon. Poinsettia production in Oregon last year grew to more than 523,000 pots with a wholesale value of more than $2.7 million. The red-leafed holiday plants have been nurtured by greenhouse growers since the summer and are now showing up in high numbers at retail outlets virtually everywhere. Other states grow plenty of poinsettias, but Oregon produces enough to satisfy nearly all of the local demand.
Not only would Christmas not look as good without Oregon, it wouldn't taste as good either. All those candy canes hanging on trees this time of year that probably owe their taste to Oregon peppermint. "Oregon is one of the nation's top producers of peppermint," says Barton.
Oregon produced more than 1.9 million pounds of peppermint in 2007. Mint oil is the state's 20th ranked commodity valued at $30 million in 2007. Mint production is especially important to the local economy of Union County, which produces more than 25 percent of the state's peppermint.
There are other holiday tastes provided by Oregon agriculture. In the ingredient area, Oregon is a major producer of all kinds of berries that go into baked items and purees consumed this time of year. Love 'em or hate 'em, those holiday fruitcakes owe much to Oregon.
"A lot of the candied cherries and other fruits that go into the traditional fruitcake are from Oregon," says Barton. "Cranberries from the southern Oregon coast as well as pears from Jackson and Hood River counties are also popular fruits this time of year- either in gift baskets or as ingredients in other holiday foods."
Of course, the state nut - the hazelnut - is going into nut bowls around the U.S. Oregon grows nearly 100 percent of the domestic crop of hazelnuts, which are used as ingredients in other kinds of products as well.
Oregon's dairy industry is also part of the holiday scene. A variety of artisan cheeses - a growing niche product in Oregon - are popular this time of year.
In the beverage department, Oregon wineries and micro-breweries are producing seasonal offerings that go well as gifts and are often consumed at holiday parties. Several hard ciders crafted from Oregon apples are a new addition to this year's beverage scene.