The 1 Million Chestnut Project was founded with a vision of communities growing local food that restores biodiversity and food security through regenerative food systems, organized through land trusts and cooperatives that advance climate resilience and food and environmental justice.
We're often asked why we've chosen to place focus specifically on chestnuts.
- For much of the northern hemisphere, beech-family ecosystems are an important carbon sequestration landscape. They share a niche that provides food and habitat for many organisms, and many are compatible with regenerative human food systems. Oaks and beeches are not consistent producers, and they require some processing. Chestnuts, however, produce nuts annually and often for centuries. Chestnuts have been integral to food systems all over the Northern Hemisphere, including in Italy, Spain, Corsica, Korea, China, and the Eastern forests of North America.
- Chestnuts are perennial. 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. They can be eaten roasted or dried and milled into flour for bread, pasta, and desserts.
- One chestnut tree can provide around half the grain needs of an adult human. This means that chestnuts trees can help replace soil-damaging and tillage-intensive annual grain agriculture, which is 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 produce a staple crop with room underneath. Mature chestnut trees can produce the same amount of food as a cornfield, but unlike corn, they produce in a canopy. There is room underneath them to grow other crops, foster native plant restoration, or to walk on streets and sidewalks. Because of this quality, chestnuts have the potential to bring staple food production into urban and residential spaces. This would allow us to shift the large landscape back to wild systems, grasslands, and return land to Indigenous 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. While chestnut trees can be planted and maintained by individuals, they also provide incentives for collaboration to improve the efficiency of growing, harvest, and processing. The planting of urban chestnuts has the potential to springboard cooperatives, businesses, clubs, and other sustainable agriculture projects.