Story and photos by Sue Wasserman
Bill Whipple is the first to admit 21 nuts don’t constitute a bumper crop. He’s still over-the-moon excited, though, because those ripening nuts from newly grafted trees aren’t just filled with protein, but high hopes for the nursery owner and orchardist who cofounded Nutty Buddy Collective (NBC), a cooperative farming venture. Now in its fourth year, NBC is working to establish long-term leases with Buncombe County property owners for the purpose of growing native nut trees such as walnut, Chinese chestnut, hickory and hazelnuts to support young farmers, provide a nourishing food supply and replenish the environment. They are also planting native fruit trees such as paw paw, persimmon and elderberry.
The idea began percolating while Whipple worked with the Buncombe Fruit and Nut Club, a volunteer organization he established to care for edible trees planted in the county’s urban parks, community gardens and schools. “I worked with a passionate group of aspiring farmers,” Whipple says. “I found myself thinking that in order for young farmers to purchase land of their own, they’d need to move to the country, where it’s more difficult to find a market for their produce. On the flip side, good market opportunities exist in Buncombe County, but land costs are prohibitively high.”
Given Buncombe County’s interest in preserving the region’s rich farm heritage, Whipple wondered if landowners might want to lease their unused acreage to a hand-selected group of future farmers. “I envisioned the person willing to lease as someone with a connection to the land, someone who wanted to leave a legacy.”
Enter retired UNCA professor and long-time permaculture enthusiast Ileana Grams-Moog. She invited Whipple to visit her property in Leicester’s South Turkey Creek Valley. The two already knew and respected each other. “I saw the perfect opportunity to protect the ecosystem and reforest the land, something my husband Bob and I had been very interested in,” Grams-Moog says. With her ample knowledge and support, the Nutty Buddy Collective crafted its first lease, which remains in effect for 99 years. “That legal document allows the collective to begin talking to other land owners,” she says. “I hope this will be the beginning of real success for them.”
For Ramin Sadeghian, the collective is a dream come true. By day, the farmer-in-training manages an Asheville medical practice. On weekends, he and fellow NBC members graft genetically improved tree material, plant trees and maintain the several-acre tract. “A field of nuts supplies far more calories and nutrition than a field of corn, for example, and supports healthy biodiversity,” Sadeghian says. “When the trees mature and there’s an abundance of nuts to be harvested, we’ll be paid for our efforts in nut shares.”
The collective’s next hurdle is to determine the most practical model for processing their future bounty. “We hope to be able to do it ourselves and create additional local employment opportunities,” Whipple says. “We’re already researching the possibilities. I feel confident we’ll be able to crack that nut when we get to it.”
To learn more about Nutty Buddy or become a lessor, visit nuttybuddycollective.com.