Why Chestnuts?

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We're often asked why we place so much focus on planting chestnuts, rather than other trees or crops. We've tried to give a sense of our reasoning below.

  • For much of the northern hemisphere, beech-family ecosystems are an important carbon sequestration landscape: oak savannah, chestnut savannah, chestnut forest, etc. Oaks and beeches are not consistent producers, and they require some processing. Chestnuts, however, produce nuts annually and often for centuries. They are a major food source in Italy, Corsica, Korea, China, and were a major food source in the eastern Americas before the blight.
  • If you plant corn or wheat, you have to do it again next year. If you plant chestnuts, you can produce food for the next 5000 years.
  • Chestnuts are nutritious. They’re more like a grain than a nut, and can be made into flour, bread, pasta, and desserts. One chestnut tree can provide around half the grain needs of an adult human.
  • This means they can replace many other kinds of grain agriculture, which are currently contributing to erosion, soil death, carbon loss, nitrates in groundwater, and dead zones in oceans.
  • Chestnuts can spread fast, because they start producing nuts in 2-5 years. They can be cash crops.
  • They produce a staple crop with room underneath. Chestnut trees produce the same amount of food as a cornfield when mature, but unlike corn, they tap deep into the ground and all their production is up high. There is room to add other plants, cows, and even sidewalks underneath them.
  • This means we can move our food staple system into cities, towns, and suburbs, in a form that is perennial and sequesters carbon. This would allow us to shift the large landscape back to wild systems, grasslands, and return land to Native people.
  • Chestnuts are useful as coppice trees, so they can produce construction material, poles, fuel, etc. This also means we can plant a lot and cut most of them back after a few years, and the trees will get bigger.
  • Chestnuts can feed activists and community groups, directly producing a little bit of regenerative freedom and feeding other kinds of climate action and organizing.
  • Chestnuts have traditionally been accomplished through group action, cooperatives, collectives, festivals, feasts, celebrations, and community.
  • Chestnuts are also a stand-in. Other places have other trees that would work better; we can’t make a recommendation for every context. And to us chestnut also means an incredibly diverse polyculture that can grow along with the trees.