Four years ago, Karen Freudenberger and Chuda Dhaurali brought an unconventional method of Christmas tree recycling to Colchester. This year, Dhaurali is continuing the event’s legacy, but without Freudenberger’s kind soul by his side.
Freudenberger, founder of Colchester’s Pine Island Community Farm, died December 1 after fighting a longstanding heart condition, Amy Kirk of Pine Island said.
“I learned a lot of things from her,” goat farmer Dhaurali said.
One of these lessons was how to grant a Christmas tree a second life.
The farm’s Christmas tree take-back event began four years ago, after the two noticed people’s tendency to leave their trees out on the curb come the New Year.
“So we just picked them up and put them in the back of my truck,” Dhaurali said.
Originally from Bhutan, the farmer resettled in Vermont in 2009 after spending 20 years in a Nepali refugee camp.
Taking a gamble, they threw a bundle of trees to the goats. The next day, the bark was wiped clean of pine needles, Dhaurali recalled during Sunday morning’s tree collection, the first of two this month.
Over his shoulder, a backdrop of pine piled up as cars continued to roll through. Once free of their tree, event-goers braced the 14-degree weather for a cup of hot cocoa and a close-up view of the goats, many of which were chomping away at the new green offerings.
An environmentally friendly way to get rid of Christmas trees, Kirk said the event brings things full circle, as opposed to leaving trees curbside, throwing them over the back deck or plopping them in nearby woods or fields.
With about 200 goats on the farm, the once-decorative Christmas element is repurposed to feed the goats, which otherwise eat grass during summer months, Kirk said.
After they’re stripped of needles, the trees are mulched or chipped up, added to the compost pile and spread out over the gardens in the farm’s lower fields.
“It’s a nice cradle-to-grave mentality, where it gets repurposed and recycled so it’s not necessarily wasted,” tree-giver Miya Howells said, holding her young daughter, Hana, in her arms.
Three years ago, Hana had her first Pine Island experience. Now, she’s old enough to understand the event and asks her mom when they get to go see the goats.
Visitors of all generations gawked on the outskirts of the goat pen Sunday morning, with and without children.
“I look forward to it every year,” Jessica Lunau chuckled. “[It’s] almost as fun as getting the tree.”
Next to her, Graig Materna noted he used to just throw his tree in the Dumpster.
“I had no idea [goats] eat Christmas trees!” he exclaimed.
Freudenberger and Dhaurali didn’t either, but they created an event that “educates the community,” the Bhutanese man said. “[People] spend a very good time here.”
As smiles spread and hands reached out to pet the animals, Dhaurali remembered Freudenberger, saying if she were there on Sunday, he’d have been much happier than he appeared to be that cold morning.
The day prior, about 200 people gathered to celebrate Freudenberger’s life, Kirk said. All funds raised at the celebration will go toward a work day in May, where they’ll plant fruit trees and flowers.
“All the farmers are just really committed to seeing Karen’s vision sustained,” Kirk said.
A partnership between the Vermont Land Trust and the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, the farm developed in 2013 as a solution to the lack of goat meat available in state. Each summer, around 60 New American families take post on the farm to maintain their own portion of land in accordance to their culture and traditions.
The Christmas tree take-back feeds the goats and also serves as a small fundraiser. A $475 total cash donation made its way to Pine Island Sunday, along with 160 trees, Kirk calculated.
The second tree collection is set for this Saturday, Jan. 14 from 9 a.m. to noon, where the farm hopes to reach its goal of 300 to 350 trees, around the same number collected after last year’s holiday season.
“[Freudenberg’s] vision was to work herself out of a job so that she didn’t have to be here anymore,” Kirk said. “Unfortunately it happened too soon, but I think there is so much energy in this place and so much life that it’s going to keep going.”