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Picture perfect
by: Sharon Nesbit  -  11/15/03
Photo by Flint Carlton
Denise Granstrom, owner of Granstrom Evergreens, looks at one of the wreaths created at her Troutdale business.
Local business creates and ships more than 40,000 identical wreaths for non-profits

TROUTDALE — The fragrance is Christmas — dense and green with a tang of juniper.

“After the first week, you get so you can’t smell anything,” says Denise Granstrom.

Granstrom, her husband, her kids, two able foremen, 40 workers, a helicopter and a rambunctious cookie-mooching dog are racing to make 40,000 Christmas wreaths by Thanksgiving. Waiting on them are dozens of non-profit groups who will sell the product — schools, Boy and Girl Scouts, hospitals — and a fleet of seven UPS trucks and trailers to carry them to homes and groups all over the nation.

A wreath from Granstrom Evergreens is a homegrown, homemade product. The greens come from Northwest forests, or maybe your neighbor’s hedge. Every wreath looks exactly like the picture. Denise Granstrom stakes her reputation on that. It seems to work because she has not advertised for seven years.

Each one of this year’s 40,000 wreaths and swags — as well as a new evergreen cross — will come out of a little red building off Division Drive south of Troutdale. It looks more like a barn than a factory, but the burden of green boughs, piles of juniper and fragrant cedar is raw material. The men who build the wreaths — two are aptly named Noel and Angel — work at production tables, grabbing clumps of greens in gloved hands, clamping them to forms.

No artistic license is allowed. Wreath and swag makers follow a prescribed menu of Noble fir, cedar and juniper to achieve the same look and the same weight. For the first week, they weigh each handful of boughs until they learn to gauge the weight. Most workers average about 50 wreaths a day, but Juan Ramon can make a 100 in a good day. It earns him a bonus.

The wreath makers stay put at production tables, supplied with fresh boughs by others who move back and forth down the line. Granstrom’s father was in production and he taught her how to keep her producers in one spot. A worker with a power clipper cuts the boughs down to size. Another weaves greens into 80-foot garlands on a machine that looks a lot like a big spinning wheel.

Camillo Hermenegildo, foreman, performs quality control, inspecting finished wreaths and swags, sending them on others who string them like green doughnuts on long poles and haul them off to a cold storage facility.

“I’ve told them about Lucy and Ethel and the candy production line,” Granstrom says. She has learned enough Spanish in 14 years to convey a funny story from “I Love Lucy.”

For a sense of satisfaction in work accomplished, Granstrom makes the 5-mile trip to the Holmlund Nursery where she has rented a huge cold storage site normally used for bare-root trees. Fortuitously, bare-root tree growers ship their product at just the time Granstrom needs their cold storage and their workers. The raw material is kept in the same cold storage and goes out as fast as the finished product comes in.

Foreman Raul Olivarez places a makeshift ladder so she can crawl to the top of the racks to see a mass of 10,000 wreaths.

“It looks just like a big green lawn,” Olivarez says.

Granstrom is staking her experience and her judgment on the outcome. Most of the non-profit groups she sells to have not yet finished presales or even placed their orders.

“Someone out there is taking care of me all the time,” she says of the guardian angel that watches over the process. “It always comes out about right.”

Any surplus is sold off the front porch of the Granstrom farm, 28745 S.E. Division Drive, after Thanksgiving. The Granstroms have a Web site for orders and information at www.granstromevergreens.com.

Denise sizes up the remaining pile of juniper harvested in Eastern Oregon and makes a decision. With 15,000 wreaths to go, she will begin to sell the surplus. She likes it that her product is created with a renewable resource that grows back in four or five years. She works to avoid waste. Much of her cedar comes from people who are already trimming hedges. Some will even delay cutting a cedar tree until fall to meet her schedule.

The wreath business runs from August, when hiring begins, through January when Denise Granstrom catches up with the paper work. Summers are spent running the family’s nursery operation. Frank Granstrom attends U.S. Forest Service auctions to bid on greens.

The couple’s 18-year-old son, Lars, a mere baby when the business started, runs the mountain crew that harvests greens.

New to the operation this year is a helicopter that picks up batches of limbs from roadless areas and carries them to collections sites that trucks can reach. Frank Granstrom drives the truck. Son Erik, a recent college grad, is home to help this season.

A daughter, Sarah, is a Spanish teacher, having picked up the language on the farm.

During the summer, piece workers turn 80,000 yards of red velvet ribbon into bows that hang ready in a storage room. On packing days, a host of friends arrives to help with the shipping, sending the big UPS trailers out with full loads.

Individual orders go out with gift cards, packaged in boxes with Christmas tissue paper.

They look just like the picture, and that is the secret Denise Granstrom says. “You do what you say you are going to do.”

Reporter Sharon Nesbit can be reached by calling 503-492-5120.
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