RICHMOND -- Putting Virginia Christmas trees in Hawaiian living rooms and Virginia smoke-cured hams on dining tables in Maine is part of a campaign to boost nationwide interest in the state's agricultural products.

The project sponsored by the state Department of Agriculture made its debut in 1983 as a one-page glossy leaflet listing a handful of Virginia apple, ham and peanut companies.

Four years later, it has emerged into a multipage, color-coded guide to the best Virginia has to offer.

The brochure, "Virginia Specialties by Mail," now lists more than 70 Virginia companies, and requests from other Virginia producers are pouring in all the time, said Eleanor L. Whinnery, media specialist with the Agriculture Department's marketing division.

"We had such interest in companies that produce Virginia products that we put together a guide to be mail-ordered for the holidays, and year-round for the consumers," she said.

"The growth of these products has been amazing," said David Zunker, editorial services manager with the state Division of Tourism. "You can order things like Virginia apples, Virginia peanuts that have the Virginia name on it. When you send them as a gift, you're sending a part of Virginia."

Since the Agriculture Department began sending out brochures, requests for products have been received from customers in California, Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Florida and other states, Whinnery said.

Everything from country ham and slab bacon to smoked turkeys and veal, Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and Buffalo Bob's Bodacious Bar-B-Que Bracer are made available through the guide.

All consumers need to do is call the appropriate company listed in the brochure and place the order.

The list of products includes herbal vinegars from Arvon Grove Herbs in Bremo Bluff; Chef Fred Inc.'s all-natural, low-sodium seasonings in Richmond; Gouda cheese from the Woodburn Creamery in Brookneal; miniature sheepskin toys from Lawson's Deerfield Farm in Culpeper, and more.

"We're saying this is the best Virginia has to offer," Whinnery said. "It's a great way to share what Virginia has with other states."

She said the idea is even more popular around the holidays when gifts can be ordered and delivered to doorsteps by Christmas.

"One of the angles we use is you don't have to stand in long lines, you don't have to worry about parking, all you have to do is place your order," Whinnery said.

The Brookfield Christmas Tree Plantation in Christiansburg has shipped cut-to-order white pines and Frasier firs from its 800-acre tree farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains to as far away as Hawaii and California, said owner David G. Larsen.

The 19-year-old firm began shipping out mail order trees nine years ago. About half of the company's $500,000 annual sales are attributed to direct mail orders, nearly all of which are placed during Christmas, Larsen said.

He anticipates selling between 15,000 and 35,000 trees this season.

Although the company keeps no figures on how much of that business is a direct result of the agricultural guide, he says he "feels very good about the publication" and what it's doing to help promote Virginia.

To be included in the brochure, firms must be Virginia-based and produce or process Virginia agricultural products.

Officials say The $25 sign-up fee is well worth the higher sales and added revenue that the companies have reported through their listings in the guide.

"It's a shared project between the department and the companies," and costs about $3,500, Whinnery said.

The startup fees "covered half the cost of the guide being printed," she said. More than 15,000 copies are to be distributed this season.

"Last year after we did this promotion, we did a survey and asked {the companies} to give us an idea of what this did for them financially," Whinnery said. "We had everything from 5 percent to 500 percent increases as a result of this guide."

Although no reports were taken on the actual dollar amount of increased business, Whinnery said one company reported a $10,000 boost in sales.

Not every company that calls gets to grace the pages of the publication. But companies that sell the same products are not excluded.

"We got 14 listers for peanuts," she said. "We basically say to consumers that you make your pick."

She said helping Virginia companies tout their products is in the Agriculture Department's best interest.

"One of the things that we're about is to promote Virginia agricultural food products, and helping these new young companies that don't have a lot of dollars for advertising."