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Annual seedling sale raises funds for educational programs in Whatcom County

Nonprofit offers 15 species of trees, many grown from locally collected seeds

Pre-ordered seedlings are wrapped up by volunteers while onlookers watch.
Pre-ordered seedlings are wrapped up by volunteers at the 2023 Whatcom County Farm Forestry Association annual Tree Sale. (Photo courtesy of Whatcom County Farm Forestry Association)
By Isaac Stone Simonelli Enterprise/Investigations Reporter

Whatcom County Farm Forestry Association announced its 65th annual Tree Sale event to raise money for forestry education programs in the county. Seedling pre-orders from a selection of 15 species of trees starts on Feb. 1 and runs until March 14.

“Our first purpose is really getting trees in people’s hands,” said Lisa Tiemersma, the chairperson for the Tree Sale. “We love trees, and we want to see them growing all over Whatcom County.”

During the past several years, the group has been selling 20,000 to 23,000 seedlings annually. In total, it has distributed more than 1.3 million trees throughout Whatcom and adjoining counties, according to a news release.

The nonprofit association, which is affiliated with the Washington Farm Forestry Association, has established itself as the voice for small forest landowners, said Tom Westergreen, the membership chair for the nonprofit and Tiemersma’s father.

“Our trees are a continuing solution to climate change, absorbing carbon from the air while they grow and then when we need to harvest some, the carbon is stored in manufactured solid wood products,” Westergreen said, noting that family forest owners have a long, rich history in the region.

“Then we replant and start the next forest,” he added.

Most of the species for sale at the event are conifers and evergreens, Tiemersma said. The seedlings, which are about 2 years old, are usually about 12 to 24 inches tall.

“We sell them for $1.25 each, which is very reasonable,” Tiemersma said. “There’s no minimum purchase.”

Pre-ordered trees can be picked up at the Lynden fairgrounds on Mar. 16 between 10 a.m. and noon.

“Since COVID, we’ve been doing online sales, and we have sold out every year,” Tiemersma said.

She warned that some species sell out in the first week. These often include incense cedar, deodar cedar and giant sequoia.

Inventory for Douglas fir, western red cedar and hemlock are the highest of the species, in part, because these are the trees that would most likely be used for reforesting following a big logging project.

Those are the big three for future timber sales, Tiemersma explained.

Trees are usually purchased by a mix of tree farmers, who purchase large quantities of the saplings, and community members, who might get as few as one or two.

“There’s a handful that buy the limit on every single species because they’re planting thousands of trees,” Tiemersma said, noting that the limit per family is set at 10% of the total stock per species. On average, people purchase closer to about 50 trees.

Many of the seedlings were grown from seeds collected in Whatcom County.

After identifying a tree with particularly good characteristics, the tree is logged and the cones are collected with a specialty rake designed by Tiemersma’s grandfather.

“We rake all the cones into a bucket, sort them out and then bring them to the nursery,” she said.

The saplings for sale that were grown from locally collected seeds include western red cedar, Douglas fir and western hemlock.

Molly Tiemersma and her mother, Lisa Tiemersma, pick hemlock cones from the branches of trees on their family farm in Whatcom County. The cones are sent to a processor, who tumbles them and collects the seeds for the next generation of trees on the farm. (Photo courtesy of Whatcom County Farm Forestry Association)

The event also provides an avenue for outreach, education and recruitment to the group.

“The profits from our Tree Sale go toward our educational efforts for the members, other family forestland owners, students and the public on sustainable forest practices,” Westergreen said. “We also provide seedlings to school children and support numerous other forestry-related projects.”

For decades, the Whatcom County Farm Forestry Association has been part of forestry tours for students, helping with logistics and providing seedlings to the kids. Washington State University Extension takes the lead, but involves timber companies, the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service, tribal nations and other stakeholders, Westergreen explained. This year though, the nonprofit is also teaming up with the Pacific Education Institute to provide teacher training. The next one is slated for May.

“We just want teachers and schools to understand why managed forests are a good thing,” Tiemersma said. “We want them to see how much we care about the land and care about trees.”

The hands-on workshop will provide information about carbon sequestration in young, managed forests, as well as the types of plant diversity replanted and supported after a plot has been clearcut.

“We just want to provide a different perspective so people can see where we’re coming from, and support us — support our tree farms,” Tiemersma said.

Tree Sale customers can access the Washington Farm Forestry Association website to learn about the trees available for sale and pre-order them.

Isaac Stone Simonelli is CDN’s enterprise/investigations reporter; reach him at; 360-922-3090 ext. 127.

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