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      Real trees help real people

      Coloring books are free for kids

      Nothing encapsulates the spirit of Christmas quite as much as a tree with all the trimmings.

      For Merle and Carole Anderson, Christmas grows all year round. Since 1973, they've pined over 90 acres of lush firs and spruces of all shapes and sizes. They are one of over 700 Christmas tree farmers in Michigan, the country's third largest producer.

      It is a labor of love for these happy few. While they don't make much, they provide joy for families across the state. The couple used to be a wholesale business. But when the 24-hour harvest cycle became too much, they reevaluated their priorities and decided to become a 'choose and cut' operation.

      Now, the retired ecology teacher schools families on the different types of trees, how to grow them, and even how to cut one down, free of charge. And visitors don't have to be picky about height. Whether it's fun-sized or poking through the roof, the most you'll pay is twenty-six dollars.

      Schools have been visiting Anderson's Twin Lakes Tree Farm for over a decade. Children plant seedlings as kindergardners, and by the time they come back as seniors, the tree is ready to be taken home. Kids gravitate toward the rustic methods and wondrous atmosphere offered by the Andersons. After visiting with their class, they know not to get too close to the baler or shaker and aren't shy about reminding their parents.

      Families could go to the store or a lot and be done in ten minutes. But it's the memories that last a lifetime. Merle believes the benefits of buying a real tree from real people can't be measured.

      "It's helps the local environment and helps people economically. And what is more fun than going out and picking your own tree? Getting to smell and look at the environment. Just a great area for some of these things," noted Anderson.

      Nearly ten million fake trees are sold every year, predominantly out of China, the choice between real and fake hits close to home. With a cleaning brush in hand, Merle explained the drawbacks of buying fake.

      "This is a plastic tree here. This is one that's a fake tree. You can buy one of these, they're green, of course, and you can use them for bottle washers if you want to. You can probably have enough for your lifetime," Anderson joked.

      So this year before you buy a king-sized toilet bowl cleaner, think about the families you could be affecting. The countless jobs that could be lost. The three million trees waiting to make a family's holiday this season. It might not seem like much, but if farms like Twin Lakes start to go under, the nature of Christmas could be gone forever.