The Chestnut Proliferation Project


In an effort to promote chestnuts as a sustainable crop on the West Coast, the Chestnut Proliferation Project is distributing young chestnut trees to farmers and ranchers keen on diversifying their land with chestnuts as a long lived, drought tolerant tree crop. Supported by a grant from Nutiva, these trees are being distributed for free along with consultation and establishment support.


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.

As an agricultural crop, chestnut trees are a hardy, long lived, and drought resistant tree that can handle rocky and steep soils. Once established, chestnut trees can bear bountiful crops of nuts with little to no maintenance for hundreds of years. Unlike annual cereal and vegetable crops, growing chestnuts requires no tillage of the soil, and as trees they sequester carbon, reduce soil erosion, provide shade, and build organic material. Historically, hogs in Europe and North America have been fattened on chestnuts. In Mediterranean regions too dry or rocky for growing hay, even horses were fed through the winter on dried chestnuts.


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.

In February 2017, the remaining 550 trees will be distributed, for which recipients are still being sought and selected. So far, the Chestnut Proliferation project has been met with tremendous amounts of enthusiasm and support, and James and Sara Joy have already begun propagating seedlings to be distributed in 2018 and beyond (it takes 3 years to raise a sapling from seed). For more information, fill out the form below.