Church first N.C. grower to serve as association president

Article Published: Dec. 29, 2011 | Modified: Dec. 29, 2011

Cline Church will become North Carolina’s first grower to ascend to the presidency in the history of the National Christmas Tree Association on Jan. 1.

“It’s really a whole process that you have to go through to get to this point,” said Church, who had served previously on the association’s board. “I’ve known for about four years I was headed for that chair.”

Church’s Fleetwood nursery, he said, supports a handful of annual and 45 temporary employees and turns out more than 60,000 freshly cut trees each year.

“We are what you call a medium-sized operation,” said Church.

Although his tenure will be limited to a two-year stint, it has done little to curb his enthusiasm.
“One of the highlights of any association president is that he gets to be at the White House when the national Christmas tree is presented,” Church said. “Otherwise, it is chairing the board and trying to put out fires within the organization. It is quite an honor.”

Fellow tree grower Wilson Barr, who has known Church for 35 years, said he has “done a great job of representing Ashe County and North Carolina for several years” and has faith in his abilities moving forward as the association faces new challenges.

With the admiration of the position and the respect he has garnered from his colleagues aside, Church knows he is coming into a challenging time for an industry that has faced tough times wrought by an era of overproduction and stern competition from the Fraser fir’s top competitor: the plastic Chinese artificial tree.

“One of my goals is to continue to keep the state associations and growers working together to protect and promote the industry whether it’s needle retention or whatever,” Church said, “because no one else out there will do it for them.”

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