Sen. Kit Bond has a love for chestnuts. While most people associate chestnuts with trees, Bond said he equates chestnuts with a special treat his mother would make — chestnut stuffing. The senator was among several thousand spectators who went to New Franklin on Saturday for the 4th Annual Missouri Chestnut Roast.
Free samples, cooking demonstrations and the opportunity to see the benefits of agroforestry, entertained visitors throughout the day. The MU Center for Agriculture and the MU Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center hosted the roast, said Rachel McCoy, senior information specialist for the MU Center for Agroforestry, with the hopes that its visitors would leave more knowledgeable about the financial, environmental and flood prevention benefits of agroforestry.
The roast focused on the research and growth made in chestnut growing.
“Sen. Bond is one of the biggest promoters and lovers of chestnuts,” said Gene Garrett, director of the MU Center for Agroforestry. And the senator did not show up empty handed.
“I’ve had lots of mistakes; I’ve planted 950 (chestnuts) and lost three-quarters of them, but the ones that survived are very hearty,” Bond said. “We brought 300 of these (seedlings) this morning, and it looks like we’re pretty well close to being sold out.”
Many visitors were curious about the senator’s seedlings from Bond Orchard in Mexico, Mo., and were interested in the seedlings’ success.
“We love them,” Bond said. “One of these full-grown trees theoretically will produce 50 pounds of nuts a year, if you can harvest them before the deer get them … . A pound of chestnuts will retail between two and three bucks a pound, and you get about 50 trees on an acre.”
Dennis Fulbright, a professor of plant pathology at Michigan State University, came to the roast to show how to make his recipe for chestnut soup and to answer any questions that fellow chestnut growers may have had.
Phil Lungo of St. Louis, who is a chestnut-tree owner, said he attended the roast with the hope that Fulbright could answer his questions so his trees could grow enough chestnuts to eat.
Before 1904, chestnut trees were the most dominant tree in forests until a blight, caused by the fungus Cryphonectria parasitica, made the trees less abundant. In the early 1980s, Fulbright began his research on chestnuts and their survival, hoping that one day chestnut trees could become prevalent once again.
Fulbright began research into the commercialization of chestnuts in the early 1990s and said he hopes chestnuts will be considered a yearlong product rather than just seasonal. Although Fulbright’s research is primarily in Michigan, he said many people work together to increase the chestnut market.
“Every time someone says the word ‘chestnut’ in this country, it helps everyone,” Fulbright said.