Communut: Nuts for the Community
If you’re considering a community garden, food forest, or orchard, nuts are a great option for a variety of reasons:
- Perhaps the most obvious and important: community nut trees can build community resilience and food security. In a context of growing inequality and climate instability, nut trees could be a crucial source of food in the years to come.
- Large nut trees eventually produce beautiful canopies and provide shade on hot summer days. This not only provides an oasis for humans to escape the sun and heat; it can also shade parking lots, streets, and buildings, contributing to an overall cooling effect in cities and suburbs.
- Community nut orchards can provide access to a wide variety of species and genetics that can be propagated and passed on to others. You can propagate more trees from your best nuts and share them with your community. Selling seedlings could even be a source of revenue for your community project.
- Compared to many fruit trees and berry bushes (not to mention annual veggies) nut trees are super hardy and low-maintenance. Unlike common fruit trees like apples and pears, they don’t require pruning and they’re relatively disease resistant, making them a great option for volunteer-driven projects with high turnover and limited expertise.
- Community nut trees can be incorporated into education programs. For kids (and adults) don’t have connections to where their food comes from, it can be a transformative process to harvest and eat food straight from a tree.
Processing the nuts can also be a fun community activity. Check out this video from Edible Acres on their community processing of hundreds of pounds of black walnuts:
- Nuts also keep longer (and have simpler storage requirements) than many common fruits. Many also drop to the ground on their own, so ladders aren’t required for harvest.
- If you’re trying to convince a school, municipality, church, or other institution to plant food-bearing trees, nuts might be an easier sell than fruit. Large institutions tend to be worried about risk management and mess. When we approached a municipality a few years ago to plant fruit trees, their main objections to the proposal were that fallen fruit could attract wasps and rats. In contrast, they were receptive to proposals involving nut trees, and several walnuts were planted as part of a pilot project.
- Proven success in community settings can help promote nut trees to homeowners, municipalities, and other institutions that may be hesitant. Imagine for a moment if most of the street trees in cities were productive nut trees instead of ornamentals. This would go a long way to enhancing food security in our cities!
- You may even be able to get some funding to support your nutty community project. For instance, check out Tree Canada's Edible Trees grant.
Community food forests
At the same time, you don’t necessarily need to choose between nuts, fruit, veggies, or herbs. These can also be integrated together in a food forest: an assemblage of plants that mimic natural forests while producing abundant food crops. Food forests intentionally incorporate trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants of different heights to create landscapes that can offer beauty, connection, and abundant harvests. As the CBC reports, food forests are on the rise in Canada
The largest food forest in North America was recently planted in Atlanta, Georgia in a former food desert where it’s difficult to access fresh, healthy food:
Large nut trees are the cornerstone of many food forests: they eventually grow to be the tallest tree in the system, and smaller trees, bushes, and perennials provide other benefits and harvests in the meantime.
That's it for now. We'll be treating this page as a living document and adding useful resources for communuts on an ongoing basis.