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Oct. 7, 2010 Volume 31, No. 7

Roast celebrates chestnut’s rebirth


Demand is growing for once-decimated species

The American Chestnut was once one of the most prolific tree crops in the country. By 1940, however, a fungal disease called chestnut blight had wiped out nearly every American Chestnut tree in North America.

But, thanks to researchers at The Center for Agroforestry at the University of Missouri, the chestnut is a potential new orchard crop for landowners in Missouri and the Midwest. To celebrate this resurgence, the center will host the Missouri Chestnut Roast from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the MU Horticulture and Agroforestry Center in New Franklin.

Michelle Hall, senior information specialist for the center, said the roast, now in its eighth year, is one way to reintroduce people to a crop that has all but disappeared from the American diet.

“We consider this an emerging market for Missouri farmers,” Hall says. “Why should we have to import chestnuts if we can grow them right here in Missouri?”

Indeed, the United States imported more than 4,900 metric tons of chestnuts, mostly from Italy, China and South Korea, in 2009. The total value of those imports exceeded $12 million, up nearly 20 percent from 2008. While domestic demand for chestnuts grows, chestnut production in the United States only accounts for about 1 percent of total global production.

The Center for Agroforestry has been trying to change that. Since 1996, a repository of more than 50 chestnut varieties have been established at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center at New Franklin.

 “We’ve found that the best cultivars for Missouri are from Chinese Chestnut trees,” says Michael Gold, the center’s associate director. “There’s huge economic potential for growing this type of chestnut on more than 3 million acres in Missouri River Hills.”

Gold and the Center for Agroforestry work closely with Missouri farmers interested in growing chestnuts, hosting a four-part workshop series that teaches techniques in planting, pruning, harvesting and marketing a chestnut crop.

“The more concrete information we can give to landowners, the better the reception they have to the idea of growing chestnuts,” Gold says. “Missouri has the potential to be the chestnut capitol of the country.”

Roast organizers expect 3,000 to 4,000 people for the one-day festival. There will be live music throughout the day, along with guided bus and walking tours of the research center. Eric Cartwright, executive chef at MU Campus Dining Services, will show the versatility of chestnuts with a cooking demonstration.

For more information, visit or contact Julie Rhoads at

                                                                                           — David Wietlispach