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Exhaust Engineer Branches Out

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In his spare time, Tenneco's Tim Jackson cultivates a Christmas tree farm in Coldwater, MI. The first trees will be ready for retail sales in 2014.

Engineers working on next-generation automotive exhaust systems are constantly on the lookout for new ways to reduce emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.

Tenneco’s Tim Jackson is going way out on a limb and into a completely new field of development to offset ozone-depleting greenhouse gases: He’s planting trees – lots and lots of trees.

The chief technology officer of one of the world’s top exhaust suppliers bought a farm in Coldwater, MI, south of Battle Creek, and last spring he planted his first batch of 600 Christmas trees as a part-time pursuit.

The trees at Conifer Crossings are nearly 2 ft. (0.6 m) tall now and growing quickly. Jackson figures his first trees will be ready for retail sale by Christmas 2014.

More trees will be planted every spring. The 5-acre (2-ha) farm he runs with his wife Melissa has room for 1,000 trees, and the Jacksons are trying to buy adjacent land and expand to 2,500 trees.

A barrel-chested man who could pass as Santa Claus if he grew a beard, Jackson got the seedlings from his local township offices, mostly firs, white pines and blue spruce.

The Jacksons want their Conifer Crossings venture to be completely eco-friendly, so they’re offering a few twists to potential customers.

If a buyer really wants to cut down a tree, the customer can bring it back to the farm after Christmas and have it ground up for burning in pellet stoves.

But customers will be encouraged to buy a live tree. Jackson is purchasing a tree spade, a large machine that digs the root ball out of the ground.

It’s wrapped in burlap, then shipped to the customer’s home, where it can be displayed indoors, with the root ball resting in a steel tub or pail and covered by a tree skirt. Because the tree stays alive, it won’t lose as many needles. Either way, the tree price will be the same.

“It’s just like a regular Christmas tree, but a foot taller,” he says. “Our family did it when our kids grew up. We always went and bought a new tree every year – we didn’t cut one down.

“We’d dig a hole in the fall before the ground freezes. As soon as Christmas is over, we’d take the tree outside, clear away the snow and put it in the hole. I’d keep a pail of dirt in the garage to throw in with the tree. The tree’s already planted in the spring.”

To show how serious he is about his tree venture, Jackson pulls out his camera phone to reveal his latest acquisition: a used fire truck that acts as an irrigation system for the trees.

“I can stand at one side of the Christmas tree orchard and water across the entire tree farm with that,” he says.

Jackson won’t be putting out any fires with his new rig, although tree farming could be considered a serious method for reducing global warming.

Some conservation experts say a single mature tree can absorb 48 lbs. (22 kg) of carbon dioxide a year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings.

Conifer Crossings also is growing apples, pears, cherries and tomatoes.

Jackson draws a direct correlation between farmer and exhaust specialist: “Both of them help the environment,” he says.

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