This year, foster a Christmas tree instead of throwing one away

The weeks after Christmas always involve a brutal massacre — of trees.

New York City is already a hideous, odiferous noxious cesspool of waste. The city is magically even more toxic in the days following December 25. All along along our broken streets you'll see the bodies of the Christmas dead: Balsam, Douglas Fir, Frasier Fir.

It doesn't have to be this way. People can make a different choice: they can foster a lil' Christmas tree and help it grow into a beautiful adult tree. 

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Fostering a Christmas tree isn't so different from fostering, say, a pet. But, instead of taking care of some nasty cat you're responsible for watering a silent plant. What a dream. 

How a tree is fostered depends on the fostering company. The basics of the fostering process nonetheless remain the same: A vendor purchases trees from a farm. A customer then purchases a young Christmas tree from the vendor. The tree is used for a few weeks, after which it's returned to the vendor, who replants it for the remainder of the year. The process continues like that for three years, after which the tree is replanted for good.

It's the cycle of Christmas tree life, folks!

There are just a few companies that currently foster trees in the United States, and (predictably) the most prominent ones are in the Bay Area: Friends of the Urban Forest and Forever Green Living Christmas Tree farm. Fostered trees run anywhere from $95 to $300 for the full three years they're being fostered.

Patrick Brown founded Forever Green Christmas Tree farm and has been running the company for three years. Brown says he came up with the idea after walking through a Home Depot right before Christmas and realizing that all the unwanted trees there — upwards of 150 trees — "weren't going to homes."  It was "wasteful," Brown told Mashable. "Heartbreaking."

Brown then decided to start his own Christmas tree company, one focused on sustainability. Customers foster the same Christmas tree for three years in a row. At the end of that period, Brown replants those trees in a 300 acre parcel north of the city. Customers can go socialize with the tree they nurtured either by attending the company's annual party or by visiting their tree independently.

The program is popular:

"Of the 72 people that originally signed up [for the program]," Brown says, "65 joined back up this year."

Brown currently has 450 customers in the Bay Area and that number is growing. He's had inquiries as far as New York and New Jersey (where no fostering tree companies currently exist), but Brown just wants to live and work in the Bay Area, where he can "tend my trees." 

Brown admits that fostering a tree comes with a few initial sacrifices, including "not having a large tree." Additionally, a dying tree is decomposing, Brown explains, which makes it give off that pleasant Christmasy gas. Living trees don't have the same traditional smell.

Still, Brown thinks that the advantages of fostering a tree far outweigh the drawbacks. Not only is fostering trees better for the environment, customers forge personal connections with their trees. Brown routinely sees pictures of kids growing right along side the Christmas trees their family is fostering.

It's just nice, folks.

Friends of the Urban Forest, a nonprofit that seeks to builder a greener San Francisco, operates a similar model to Forever Green. At FUF, however, the nonprofit ultimately replants many of those trees in underserved areas in the the city of San Francisco.

San Francisco has a comparatively low tree canopy — just 13.7 percent of the city is covered by trees, according to Dan Flanagan, Executive Director of FUF. Compare that to New York City, a barren wasteland where that percentage somehow magically stands at 24 percent.

According to Flanagan, interest in the program has absolutely "taken off" in the past two years. Flanagan attributes the spike in interest to both better marketing and increased environmental awareness.

"It's a lot of waste — a ton of waste," Flanagan says of the traditional cut-use-and-burn tree model. "It's all burnt and it goes into the atmosphere."

Flanagan says that sometimes people even drop off their dead trees in the nonprofit's tree yard "thinking we can revitalize them" (they can't).

Friends of the Urban Forest and Forever Green Christmas still have trees available, though they'll likely be closing up shop for the season soon after this weekend.

Christmas tree waste is always a bummer. So consider fostering a tree if you can — or starting your own Christmas tree company, if you're so inclined.

'Tis  the season for sustainability, folks!

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