By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WEST FARMINGTON -- Christmas trees are being uprooted this week and prepared as early presents for U.S. troops serving in Iraq, Europe and southwest Asia.
Christmas tree growers in Trumbull and Mahoning counties trucked donated evergreens Monday to Hardesty Hilltop Farms in Middlefield.
Today, the 5- and 6-foot trees are being driven south to Columbus, where they will be inspected by Ohio Department of Agriculture officials, packaged in boxes with handmade ornaments, and sent Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
The project, coordinated by the Ohio Christmas Tree Association, is expected to deliver between 80 and 200 trees to troops overseas via military transport from Pennsylvania in about two weeks.
The trees may be the only public signs of Christmas for some soldiers stationed in predominantly Muslim countries, said Amy Galehouse, a board member of the tree growers' association.
"It is a very big symbol of home," she said.
Accompanying the trees are boxes of ornaments made by schoolchildren, either in class or during farm visits.
This is the 10th year the state organization has shipped donated trees to overseas troops. The number has gone up from 29 trees in the first year to more than 100 in 2004.
Growers say the American trees mean more to soldiers than one cut down locally, if that's possible.
"It is something from home," said Lyle Bailey of Bailey's Christmas Tree Farm in Lordstown, which donated two trees this year. "It is a little more meaningful, I believe, than if it came from anywhere else."
Ornaments shipped from his farm were made by Champion and Lordstown fourth-graders who visited on class tours.
Other local tree farms participating this year include Hardesty Hilltop Tree Farm and Pioneer Trails Tree Farm in Poland.