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Circles of green, circles of love

by Kathryn Star Heart
| December 8, 2010 8:00 PM

Professional landscapers Travis and Julie Smith know how critical it is to promote local Idaho products as well as provide jobs in their community.

Since they bought The Wreath Farm from a family friend in 2000, these two young, enterprising business people have been engaged in both endeavors ever since.

With the unemployment rate soaring to 26 percent in Boundary County, the Wreath Farm provides 21 employees with jobs during the Christmas season, effectively extending their landscaping business another six weeks.

Committed to maintaining a family-centered business, Julie and Travis are equally adamant about providing the highest quality of fresh, hand-fashioned Christmas wreaths available anywhere.

Indeed, walking into The Wreath Farm is akin to being enveloped in the intensely aromatic scent of an evergreen forest. As workers busily weave the wreath bases containing freshly-cut sprigs of grand fir, Douglas fir, cedar and white pine onto wire wreath rings, the atmosphere is relaxed and jovial. This camaraderie among the employees is another attribute that Travis and Julie are passionate about.

"We absolutely don't want this business to be a sweat shop," Julie said. "We want our employees to be happy working here."

From their first season in 2000 when they shipped about 1,000 wreaths, The Wreath Farm has since generated such a loyal following that now they ship more than 3,600 wreaths worldwide during their six- week wreath making season. The Smiths feel especially gratified to ship their handcrafted wreaths to customers as far away as Europe and Australia, all from their shop in Bonners Ferry.

"It's important for people to understand that we do not cut trees to get the greens for our wreaths," Julie said. "We just cut the tips of the branches which grow back in three or four years, making the regrowth lusher and healthier. We are passionate about responsible harvesting and timber management."

This commitment to responsible harvesting has been recognized by such national powerhouses as the Lewis-Clark Chapter of Women in Timber, an organization which promotes and lobbies for timber issues, as well as several national paper and cardboard manufacturers who order wreaths from The Wreath Farm each year. Due to the high quality of the wreaths, The Wreath Farm is also seeing an increase in orders from retail garden centers across the country as well.

Watching The Wreath Farm grow and evolve over the last 10 years has been especially rewarding for Julie who, in addition to managing The Wreath Farm and Horizon Landscaping with husband Travis, is also a busy mother of five and a college student nearing completion of her bachelor's degree in nutrition.

"The first year was a little rough," she said, laughing. "I had just had our third child and brought my three-month-old baby to six different craft shows for six weekends in a row. It was hard but we felt that we had to get the word out about our great products. We survived that and have been growing ever since."

Over the past 10 years, Julie estimates that The Wreath Farm has sold more than 30,000 products, all made in Idaho, of Idaho products by Idaho residents.

The key to the wreaths' pungent aroma is their freshness, Julie said. A crew from The Wreath Farm goes into the forest every day during wreath season to ensure that the greens are fresh.

"Our wreaths are fresher than other commercially-made wreaths," said Julie. "We don't begin harvesting the greens until the end of October when the weather has turned cold and we continue harvesting throughout the season. Other wreath manufacturers store their cuttings in climate- controlled warehouses, but our climate control is the great outdoors. We don't stockpile greens that were cut in September."

Available from The Wreath Farm are five different wreaths, a 20-foot fresh cedar garland, two different sizes of swags, two centerpieces, sachets, pine cone fire starters, pine cone fragrance cones, an 8-pound "box of boughs" as well as a 4-pound box of pine cones.

"As a family-owned business, we pride ourselves on the quality of our wreaths," Julie said. "We have awesome customers and have even received thank you cards from customers because they love their wreaths so much. We welcome special orders and can even make custom wreaths to individual dimensions. We love what we do. It's a good feeling to know that you are helping to make someone's holidays brighter."

Information: www.thewreathfarm.com.

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