Munley told CNA that in preparation for Palm Sunday, he works to deliver palms from their source to different parishes that place orders around the country. In addition to Florida, palms are sourced from Texas, California and elsewhere in the Southern United States, he said.
While nearly all of the palms Munley sells are individually pre-cut, church goods suppliers also helps to source decorative palms for altar centerpieces and larger palm fronds as well. Dealers also work to ensure that palms get burnt and ground into ashes for Ash Wednesday, for parishes that cannot burn the palms for ashes themselves.
Munley also stressed that although many American-based palm sources are not labeled as "eco-friendly," the practices of many major U.S. palm harvesters are indeed environmentally sustainable.
"Our guys don't kill the palm," he said, adding that by sourcing palms from American harvesters as opposed to internationally-certified "green" farmers, they help to reduce the ecological impact of shipping and transportation.
Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Sowell said that the palm trees he works with "are 100 percent wild." He works with local ranchers and landowners to remove palmetto leaves from trees that grow naturally on local farmland.
Some of the trees Sowell harvests from have been producing palm leaves since he first started gathering palm leaves to sell as a boy.
"I know that there are trees that are still being cut today that I cut when I was twelve," he said.
Originally, Sowell cut everything himself. Over the years, however, his growing cooperation with the caretakers who supply palm led him to focus more on preparing palms for church supply dealers and for shipment.
Cooperation with ranchers and landowners is critical. Sowell says the process of cutting, cleaning and preparing the strips of palm is incredibly labor intensive, and he could not complete it without local partnerships. "There's no way that you could grow this much palm and just do it (alone). It's hard."
The work is so intensive that the Palm Sunday celebrations require an entire year's work. "We work twelve months out of the year, in one aspect or another, for one day," Sowell said.
He also supplies palm leaves for Eastern Orthodox Churches, which use a different calendar for Easter and Lent. After the celebration of Palm Sunday in the Catholic Church and other Western churches, "we'll turn around in a couple of weeks and gather more palms so they're fresh for the Orthodox," he said.
(Story continues below)
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The participation of Christians in Palm Sunday celebrations not only provides work and a living for Sowell and his employees, but financial support for the local ranchers who work with him.
"There are so many families that help us that can earn money in a way that otherwise they couldn't."
Ultimately, Sowell sees his job harvesting and preparing palm leaves – and the service he is able to offer to parishes across the country – as a blessing.
"There would have been no way we could have done this if it hadn't been for God helping us," he said.
This article was originally published on CNA March 16, 2016.
Adelaide Mena was the DC Correspondent for Catholic News Agency until 2017 and is a 2012 graduate of Princeton University.