Small-scale farmers who grow chestnuts in California can now start concentrating on marketing their crops. Stanislaus County farmer Joe Avila, who owns The Chestnut Farm in Modesto with his wife, Jenni, says his harvest is complete and he expects to sell out before the Thanksgiving holiday.
"The production of the chestnut crop this year was very nice," Avila said. "Volume-wise, it was a little smaller, but percentages on the size of the chestnuts was up from last year quite a bit, so we're happy with that. Chestnut quality looks great; they're peeling well and they're sweet."
He harvested 9 tons of chestnuts this season, including the European Colossal variety. This is a hybrid of Japanese and European varieties resistant to chestnut blight, which virtually destroyed the native American chestnut in the mid-1900s. The family also grows an accompanying pollinator, the Nevada chestnut. Avila said the two trees are planted together and depend on wind pollination to set the crop.
Harvest typically begins in mid-September and continues through mid-October. The Avilas—with help from their son Shane and daughter and son-in law Laci and Kenny Anderson—shake the trees and collect ripened chestnuts that have dropped to the orchard floor.
"Chestnuts are a real unique and specialty item, and there are not many planted in California and in the United States," Jenni Avila said. "When we first started growing them, we used to go to farmers markets and sell them, and pretty soon it was just more efficient to tell people to stop by our farm."