Tell your friends, tell your neighbors: A Brooklyn-based Christmas tree business with a difference is giving away free trees ahead of Sunday to anyone who needs one.
“No kid—no family—should go without if they want one,” New York State of Pine founder Ellis Roberts told BK Reader.
All you need to do is rock up to their 323 St Johns Place location in Prospect Place, and say the word “solidarity.” Then, you’re welcome to choose whichever tree you want.
“Choose the best tree on the lot,” Roberts said. “Nothing is too good for the working class.”
Just don’t call the free tree “charity.” For Roberts, a self-described communist, the act is simply one of working class solidarity.
Roberts founded New York State of Pine—a worker-owned Christmas tree coop—four years ago, in response to seeing first-hand how exploitative the Christmas tree industry was.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Roberts came to New York City 12 years ago to join Occupy Wall Street. He said he’s been a communist since he was 15 years old, about the same time he started working as a laborer and developing a deep respect for other laborers and workers who “build and maintain everything on this planet.”
Not wanting to return home, Roberts answered an ad on Craigslist for a Christmas tree job at a large company in Manhattan.
The role didn’t specify pay, and Roberts said he and other workers calculated they ended up getting about $3.25 per hour plus tips for working grueling 14-hour days, 35 days straight.
Roberts said, years later, these sorts of Christmas tree companies are still exploiting workers.
“They justify it by saying it is farm wages. Really it’s a racket and that’s the kind of thing as a company we seek to put an end to.”
Fed up with the industry, Roberts struck out in 2019 to start his own worker-owned Christmas tree company with working class values. At New York State of Pine, everyone who works for the company has the same status and decision-making power.
“We split the profit by the day. The day is technically 12 hours, 9-to-9, and we have six folks working with us.” At the end of the week, they divide the profit by the hours each person has worked.
New York State of Pine also has smart approach to buying trees that cuts out the middle man and keeps prices low for consumers, and gives farmers a better deal, too, Roberts said.
Instead of using brokers, who buy large lots of trees from farmers and “create artificial scarcity and sell at a high price at a mark-up,” Roberts said he buys directly from small farmers.
His season starts in March, when Roberts starts traveling from Nova Scotia to North Carolina to stop in on small farms and “tag” the trees he wants to reserve for Christmas.
He said, often smaller tree farmers are older folks who are not social media savvy and advertising, so often it’s a matter of knocking on a door.
The farm-to-living room approach allows New York State of Pine to sell trees at a more affordable price: from as low as $45 for a table tree, to about $135 for a premium grade large Frasier fir. Roberts said he’d seen trees going for as high as $250 for small trees in Manhattan.
Over the past four years, New York State of Pine has been able to open three locations in Brooklyn with their business model that centers working-class ideals—one in Prospect Heights, one in Williamsburg and one in Park Slope.
Coming up, the coop is looking to expand into Manhattan, where some of the more exploitative businesses operate.
At the same time, serving working class people is at the heart of what it does. The company also donates trees to serve working people, including recently to a Brooklyn shelter that is housing 167 children and their families who are seeking asylum in the United States.
“We as working class folks know the working class is multinational—we don’t have a country as the working class, we just have our class solidarity,” he said.
Meanwhile, those receiving a free Christmas tree when they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford them are simply grateful.
“One woman came up and cried and gave me a hug,” Roberts recalled. “That’s the Christmas season, whether you’re religious or not, it’s about kindness.”
The free trees are available to those who need them Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 from 9am – 9pm, at 323 St Johns Place.
Just say “solidarity.”