How planting chestnut trees in Olympia can sequester carbon, increase food security, and foster community

By Chris Nolte

When we plant a tree, we invest in our community’s future. With ecological catastrophe on the horizon, we need to be thinking strategically about how to plant as many trees as possible, as quickly and efficiently as we can, to ensure a more livable future for generations to come. Within deforested urban settings, trees increase the water infiltration capacity of the soil and protect aquifers, reduce toxic runoff into streams and the sea, sequester carbon, and reduce air temperature through shade and evapotranspiration. Fruit and nut bearing trees also provide sustenance to the human and animal populations in the area, encouraging local food resiliency, biodiversity, and healthy habitats.  

So, why not incentivize carbon sequestration with roasted chestnuts and fresh apple cider?

The Many Trees Project is actively working to plant tree crops and food forests in Olympia. In March of 2019, approximately 3,000 Chestnut trees were planted from seed in nursery rows at Calliope Farm in West Olympia. These aspiring young saplings are now ready for transplant, as well as Hazelnut and Walnut trees, and are available for free through early March 2021. Following work done by groups such as Edible Forest Gardens, many of these trees will be planted in public spaces such as schools, parks, and churches.  But public space is limited, and planting 3000 trees requires a lot of digging. By offering these trees for free to the public, community members like yourself are encouraged to participate in their urban ecosystem – converting yards and fence lines into pleasant and productive food-bearing forests.

Why Chestnuts?

Chestnuts are a nutritionally dense food that has been a staple in traditional diets around the globe for millenia. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are high in carbohydrates – making them a versatile ingredient that can replace wheat in dishes both sweet and savory. The flavor pallet lies somewhere between a sweet potato and heaven itself. The health benefits are numerous: they are rich in antioxidants, reduce heart disease, balance blood sugar, improve digestion, and they are gluten free. Not to mention the health benefits of roasting them on an open fire with friends and family. They require little maintenance, and unlike grain you only have to plant them once. Chestnut trees can grow 80 feet tall and last hundreds of years, providing nourishment and resiliency long into the future.

There’s much work to be done, but we’re off to a good start. 3000 chestnut trees at maturity is enough to satisfy 3% of the grain nutritional requirements of the population of Olympia. Add other tree crops into the equation – walnuts rich in proteins and fats, apples rich in sugars and vitamins, acorns rich in carbohydrates, elderberries rich in antioxidants – and we can begin to imagine a local food system that nourishes life both human and otherwise. Local tree crops can promote plant-based diets, reduce our dependence on annual agriculture, and reduce long distance transportation of food – all of which has tremendous implications in carbon cycling. And of course, quality of life greatly improves when food falls from the sky. 

When’s the best time to plant a tree? 30 years ago. When’s the second best time to plant a tree? Right now. Get involved! More planting is planned for 2021, with an increased focus on indigenous food systems. Find out more at https://manytreesproject.org/

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