“Plant those trees. They’ll still make bulldozers in 30 years.” Charlie Payne, at least once a week for the past 5 years.
Not much makes less sense to an 87 year old farmer who spent his entire life pushing out trees on his farm than to…yep, plant a bunch of trees. So, how did we end up with 30 acres of a chestnut orchard? Now that’s a good story.
The problem with starting down the path of soil health is that the progression doesn’t always stop where you want it to stop. Once we started with cover crops, no till, and living roots in the ground, we had to continue down the rabbit hole. Where does that lead? Perennial crops - crops that are always living.
Luckily, I made friends with the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry and learned about a perennial crop with both ecological benefits and economic potential: chestnuts. Of course, I reported back to my farming partner - Charlie - who immediately told me no with extremely colorful language.
Yet, I am nothing if not persistent. Three years later and two canceled NRCS applications later, we had a farmful of volunteers from Beggars Table, a church in Kansas City, and an approved EQUIP contract for Alley Cropping - an agroforestry practice in which trees are planted in rows, and crops are grown in alleys in between.
While we were planting, Charlie broke down in tears. Turns out that when he bought the farm 60 years ago, there was …an orchard. Exactly where we planted our trees.
Now, it’s been 5 years, two small chestnut harvests, and a 600 tree and growing chestnut orchard - and still no bulldozer. He often tells me he wishes he could come back in 30 years to see what this farm becomes. We hope he gets at least a small taste of it.