From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Chestnuts, a Vital Ingredient to the American Melting Pot

By Kim Evoy Bryant

Chestnuts, a Vital Ingredient to the American Melting Pot

I’m sitting at my farm in Nelson County, Virginia. We grow chestnuts and this is the first time we have invited folks to come and pick their own chestnuts. I had questions. Would anyone want to pick chestnuts, would they be okay with driving down our dirt road, would they be able to find our farm nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains? It’s a perfect fall day with the sun out and just warm enough for everyone to enjoy. The cars start coming in and I’m a little nervous about what people will think about picking chestnuts. It’s not a difficult task, but can take a little while. Chestnuts, when ripe and ready for harvest, fall to the ground, so each nut has to be harvested from the floor of the orchard.

As the day goes on, I realize that more than 50% of the people coming for the harvest are first- generation Americans. Their parents have come from Korea, China, Japan, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, Greece, Finland, Turkey, Russia, Philippines and Macedonia, maybe more. My ancestors originated in some of these countries. Our visitors are so excited and keep telling us stories about chestnuts in their country and how they had been waiting for this day. One gentleman was overjoyed, said he had been “looking for a chestnut orchard for 16 years” and was elated that we were within driving distance. With his son by his side, he shared a lovely memory of being a boy in his country and picking chestnuts. What has happened on our farm is amazing to us!

My husband and I initially set out to grow a crop that would be profitable and take us into retirement. We love living on the farm and really just wanted the farm to pay for itself. Over the years we have enjoyed meeting and working with other chestnut growers and of course meeting our customers. But we were not prepared for the overwhelming response from a community that had been looking for this very thing; a chestnut orchard. We have learned so much in the last few weeks from our visitors. Chestnuts is one of those food items that really does bring people together. People that have come from other countries to find a better life in America. And chestnuts take them back to their childhood, their families, their farms, their dinner table.

While I was sitting out in the orchard waiting on customers, my 8-year old niece and I were talking. I said, “Livie, listen to all of the languages being spoken.” Families came with their lunch baskets and blankets, they spread them out under the chestnut trees. Children ate a bite and then ran around. Everyone was happy. My heart is still full, which is an understatement.

This entire world has been though a very difficult time in the last 18 months. Folks everywhere seem to be at the end of their ropes. Some are questioning whether America is still a great place. All I can tell you is that from our farm it is peaceful, lovely, calm and a great representation of the best of America. I still love my country. Even more at my farm.

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About the Author: Kim Evoy Bryant was born in Kentucky, raised in New Jersey and since 1986 has made her life in Virginia.  Kim and her husband David established their farm in 2003, planted chestnut trees in 2009 and since then have learned about chestnuts as a food source. They are currently working to help others begin their chestnut orchard journey with Chestnut School and tree sales.

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