I’ve had a curiosity about chestnuts for many years – since childhood, actually. We used to go Fall hunting for the ‘perfect’ chestnut as they fell to the ground. But those were horse chestnuts, not the edible type. There was the old classic song, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, kept alive most notably by the Nat King Cole version. But the edible kind weren’t available by the time I was growing up – most of the big American chestnut trees were wiped out by a fungus in the early 1900’s. For me, chestnuts were a mythical food.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, chestnuts are sold at the farmers market and grocery stores that source them locally. I wanted to learn more about them and discovered Chris Foster, an organic chestnut farmer on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Foster’s farm, Cascadia Chestnuts, consists of 8 acres, 5 of which are dedicated to growing about six different cultivars. He grows prized Italian and French cultivars which are seldom found in the U.S.
As you’ll see in the video, Foster harvests the chestnuts by hand with the help of his wife, Andee, and a WWOOF intern. They are washed, sorted, and sanitized by hand, then stored at 32ºF in a walk-in refrigerator until it’s time to go to market. They’re currently producing about 2,000 pounds per acre with the eventual goal to reach around 3,000 pounds per acre.
“Fortunately, you know the beauty of doing agriculture near the city is I’m 20 minutes away from my market. I can go on a Friday, leave here at, oh, 6:30 and go to 12-14 stores and be home at Noon.”, says Chris Foster.
According to Foster, 90% of the U.S. consumption are from imports, representing about 10 million pounds of chestnuts on an annual basis. That’s a lot of chestnuts!
For Chris Foster, providing his local community a high quality locally grown product that also creates lesser impact on the environment is a win-win for everyone involved.