The Chestnut Proliferation Project
Relatively obscure in both modern American cuisine and agriculture, chestnuts are wildly popular in Europe and Asia. Eaten fresh roasted, chestnuts are incomparable to any other nut- like a hot sweet potato. 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 that is used to make breads, cakes, pasta.
Despite their relative obscurity, the market for fresh chestnuts in the United States is insatiable. Only about 5% of the chestnuts consumed in the US are produced in the US- the rest are imported from Asia or Europe. Practically all growers in the US can sell as many fresh chestnuts as they can pick up- many even establish waitlists for their customers.
The Chestnut Proliferation Project was started by James Most and Sara Joy Palmer, husband and wife farmers on Orcas Island, WA. 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 free with consultation and establishment support to farmers and ranchers on the West Coast.
In February 2016, a first batch of 200 trees will be distributed to 10 locations in California, Oregon, and Washington. Recipients include a horse powered organic vegetable farm in Walla Walla, a community supported farm and ranch in the Klamath mountains, a soil building farmland project outside Chico, and an auto mechanic shop/ cattle ranch transitioning to farming near Bellingham.