Wreathmaking champion knows how to decorate

There are many traditions that come to mind when decorating for the holidays. Some of the more popular ones are a Christmas tree in the living room, lights adorning the outside of the house and a festive wreath hanging on the front door. When it comes to wreaths, though, students may not realize that the state wreathmaking champion attends this very school.

This year, Keri Benton, junior art and elementary education major, received the honor from the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association (NJCTGA), an organization comprised of farms in the state that, if it wasn’t obvious already, grow their own Christmas trees. The group holds annual competitions for different wreaths and trees.

“I’ve entered the competition for the last three years, but this is the first year I won anything,” Benton said.

The wreathmaking competition had two divisions: a natural division and a decorated division. Keri managed to place first in both categories. In the natural division, Benton could use only natural materials.

“I used fruit in my design,” she said. “I think I won because I used dried oranges to make the wreath more colorful, and that had never been done before.”

Other competitors used cranberries and other fruits and spices to make their wreaths more festive, but in the end, Benton’s design won out.

Students may be wondering whether the state wreathmaking champion can make wreaths for dorm room doors. Unfortunately, campus policy gets in the way.

“Live greens aren’t allowed in dorms, so even if I did make them for students, they wouldn’t be able to put them up here at the College,” she said.

Benton’s family owns the Spruce Goose Christmas Tree Farm in Chesterfield, located in Burlington County. The business is 11 years old, and Benton has been making wreaths for customers for the past nine years. Benton estimates that she makes a few hundred wreaths each season.

Her father manages about 10 acres of trees and the rest of the family helps out during the holiday season. The business sells pre-cut Christmas trees, wreaths and other holiday decorations out of their barn.

The Spruce Goose Christmas Tree Farm took home many awards this year. The farm was the overall Grand Champion of competing farms and placed first in the Douglas fir and tabletop divisions and second in Serbian Spruces, in addition to Benton’s two first place wreathmaking honors.

The farm is also one of a rapidly declining number of farms in the state that sell state-grown trees. Many vendors that sell Christmas trees at this time of year import them from other states or even Canada.

“It’s important for people buying trees at this time of year to support farms that sell state-grown trees and support the business in general,” Benton said.

The NJCTGA lists 85 farms in the state that sell state-grown trees. To locate a farm so that your family can celebrate the holidays with a state-grown Christmas tree, visit the NJCTGA Web site at njchristmastrees.org.

The Web site allows customers to locate farms and sort by preferences, like farms with hayrides or appearances by Santa on weekends. It also provides a useful guide to shopping for state-grown trees and what to do and not to do.