The central part of Virginia was covered in chestnut trees in the early 1900s. A blight wiped out the chestnuts to near extinction by 1940. But, they’re coming back.
David and Kim Bryant live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson County, Virginia. When they bought their 46-acres, they did some research on chestnut trees and decided to be part of the nut’s revival. The Bryant’s planted the first 200 trees in 2008, and now have about 1,600. The blight is still around, but David says they’re growing a hybrid chestnut variety called “Dunstan”, which is resistant to the disease. Chestnuts are also a favorite of cicadas and deer, so there are still some battles to fight.
However, David says they hope to harvest ten-thousand pounds of nuts this year.
"The typical customer for us is either institutional buyers, or chefs, or brewers in the regional area. So we raise these chestnuts and provide them to them as a food ingredient for the products that they create," says David.
Five other growers in the area have also started raising chestnuts. After harvesting, David says the biggest challenge of a chestnut is peeling it.
"The labor, the effort to peel the nut is so intensive that it’s really hindered sales. So what we did was import some equipment that will actually peel the nuts, and our approach is to peel the nuts on demand so you have the ultimate in fresh chestnuts," says David. "So when you order, we peel right on the spot, we package, and send it to our customers."
Chestnuts of course are also part of holiday nostalgia, so David says they will sell them to anyone who wants to roast chestnuts on an open fire.
Learn more about the Bryant's and their chestnut farm
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