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Winston 4-H'ers trade Christmas trees for donations at annual Truth or Consequences sale

It was the first Saturday of December and the Winston Leggins 4-H Club was out in the woods cutting trees for the annual Sierra County 4-H Christmas tree sale. Weather-wise it may not have seemed much like the Christmas season - most of the participants worked in light jackets or even T-shirts - but the holiday spirit was running high.

Klessy (left) and Keely Muncy (center) get a lesson in chainsaw operation from their father and 4-H leader Cary Muncy during the annual Sierra County Christmas tree sale harvest. Ten 4-H'ers and their leaders from the Winston Leggins 4-H club spent the day of Dec. 4 cutting more than 60 trees for this year's sale in Truth or Consequences. (Photo Courtesy of Dee Wear, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service)

According to Dee Wear, Extension program director for Sierra County, the harvest takes place on cattle ranches north of Winston, in and around the Gila National Forest. The club collaborates with both the ranchers and the U.S. Forest Service office in Truth or Consequences, the issuer of the free permit to cut piņon trees.

By the end of the day, the group of 10 4-H'ers and their leaders had cut more than 60 trees and had them loaded for transport back down to Winston.

The holiday season fundraising and service project, classified as a "4-H leadership activity," has been held annually for more than a decade. It is coordinated out of the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service office in Truth or Consequences, the county seat of Sierra County located some 40 miles southeast of Winston.

The Winston club members cut the trees and bring them down to Truth or Consequences, where most of them attend school. For this year's sale, they set up their business in a vacant storefront and parking lot on Dec. 10 and sold most of their trees that weekend.

The term "sale" is a bit of a misnomer. "People come by to find a tree they like and pay what they can," Wear said. Take a tree, give a donation. The donated funds go back to the Winston club to help support club members' travel to 4-H conferences, leadership training events and competitions. Wear said the project typically raises about $1,000. Unsold trees are donated to charitable organizations in the T or C area.

"I love this 'fun-raiser,'" Wear said. "The Christmas tree harvest not only helps support 4-H but also serves our community."

The benefit to the participants is more than financial gain and more than the satisfaction of having performed worthwhile service. The 4-H'ers are involved in the planning, obtaining permits, selection and harvesting of trees, transporting and caring for the cut trees, maintaining the sale facility, handling the finances, and cleaning up.

Wear said the club members benefit personally in multiple ways: "4-H'ers are exposed to the value of community service, develop stronger work ethic, become more familiar with their natural surroundings, and learn how to use a saw safely," he said. He said that they also learn about forest stewardship.

As Christmas approaches in Sierra County, a number of families have 4-H to thank for Christmas trees they might not have otherwise been able to afford. The organization isn't just about "head, heart, hands, health" - it's also about "happy holidays!"