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Chestnut project provides young trees to growers

Jun 1st, 2016 | Category: Growing

Orcas Island couple leads project, seeks recipients for 2017 

In an effort to promote chestnuts on the West Coast, the Chestnut Proliferation Project is distributing young chestnut trees to farmers and ranchers interested in diversifying their land with chestnuts as a long lived, drought tolerant tree crop. Supported by a grant from Nutiva, these trees are being distributed for free along with consultation and establishment support.

Chestnuts begin to bear about 3-5 years after planting. The nuts ripen on the tree then fall to the ground, typically mid-September through mid-October. COURTESY PHOTOs

Chestnuts begin to bear about 3-5 years after planting. The nuts ripen on the tree then fall to the ground, typically mid-September through mid-October. COURTESY PHOTOS

The Chestnut Proliferation Project was started by James Most and Sara Joy Palmer, husband and wife farmers on Orcas Island. They started propagating chestnut trees in 2012, seeking to promote chestnuts as a sustainable agricultural crop. Funded by a grant from Nutiva in 2014, they expanded into a new nursery site and began propagating 750 trees to be given away to farmers and ranchers on the West Coast.

In February 2016, the first batch of 200 trees was distributed to locations in Washington, Oregon and California. The remaining 550 trees will be distributed in early 2017, for which recipients are being sought and selected. For more information about applying for trees, email James at jamesmost@gmail.com.

So far, the Chestnut Proliferation project has been met with tremendous enthusiasm and support, according to James and Sara Joy. They have already begun propagating seedlings to be distributed in 2018 and beyond (it takes three years to raise a sapling from seed).

According to Most, the market for fresh chestnuts in the United States is insatiable. Only about five percent of the chestnuts consumed in the U.S. are produced here; the rest are imported from Asia or Europe. Practically all growers in the U.S. can sell their harvests, with some establishing wait lists for their customers.

As an agricultural crop, chestnut trees are a hardy, long lived, and drought resistant tree that can handle rocky and steep soils, he added. Once established, chestnut trees can bear bountiful crops of nuts with little maintenance. Growing chestnuts requires no tillage of the soil, and as trees they remove carbon, reduce soil erosion, provide shade, and build organic material. chesnut 2 web

Excited about the chestnut’s history, Most said, historically, hogs in Europe and North America have been fattened on chestnuts. In Mediterranean regions too dry or rocky for growing hay, even horses were fed through the winter on dried chestnuts.

Chestnuts contain very little fat and have a carbohydrate and sugar content similar to wheat or rice, hence giving them their reputation as the “bread tree.” Once dried, chestnuts can be milled into flour for breads, cakes, and pasta.

For more information

Are you a farmer or rancher interested in receiving free chestnut trees? Contact James Most, of the Orcas Island-based Chestnut Proliferation Project, at jamesmost@gmail.com.

Another local resource for chestnuts is the Washington Chestnut Company, offering tree sales and fresh chesnuts when in season, at 6160 Everson Goshen Road in Everson. See their website at www.washingtonchestnut.com or call (360) 966-7158.


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