"Chestnut trees are magnetic. They pull in all types of creatures like deer, turkey, raccoons and kids. All I want to do is plant as many of them as I can."
Akiva Silver and his family of five harvest hundreds of pounds of chestnuts every year from their neighbors old chestnut orchard. They love roasting them and processing them into flour to make breads, cookies and pastries. The American Chestnut was once the dominant tree across its range from Maine to Mississippi. This tree could reach heights of one hundred feet with diameters up to ten feet! While hanging out with Akiva and his family for their annual nut gathering they caught me up on all the of the tree's fascinating ecological and cultural history. Train cars used to load up to the brim with chestnuts and bring them into cities across the northeast for holiday roasting. After a chestnut fungus blight was brought to the US in 1904 they were wiped completely off the map and quickly disappeared over the next few decades.
"It's like corn that grows on trees the difference is these trees can grow on rocky hillsides and crappy soils and only need to be planted once to feed wildlife and humans for hundreds of years!"
Akiva started his nursery originally for himself to grow out the trees on his farm but quickly realized it wasn't that much harder to grow a thousand trees in his long garden beds. When friends started asking for huge orders he decided to go full time growing out trees.
"We make these Chestnut cookies with only chestnuts for flour! They are already sweet and way better then any other cookies we make. The more we can get people growing these trees the more we can have access to these tree flours".
Seeing these cookies from harvesting the nuts to the cooling rack was mind blowing. We live in an annual grain culture and it is hard to remember many places in the world still rely on trees for staple foods. They were insanely good.
Akiva is now working with a group of other Nut Growers in NY state to setup a nut processing facility where anyone could bring nuts to be shelled and processed into flours and butters. To keep up with Akiva and their farm events follow them on their Facebook page HERE!