Cummington Pair Look to Pioneer Nut Farming in Western Mass

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, February 6, 2017, by

When Sara Tower began farming about eight years ago, she worked mostly with vegetables, which is typical of many farmers in the area. Next fall, though, she and her partner will harvest a crop that is new to western Massachusetts — nuts.

Last year, Tower and Kalyan Uprichard, co-owners of Nutwood Farm in Cummington, planted 350 nut trees on their 8-acre farm. By 2026, they expect to harvest 10,000 pounds of nuts, including chestnuts, walnuts and hazelnuts.

“We’re changing the food system,” Tower said.

Tower and Uprichard’s goal is to introduce the practice of nut farming, a regenerative form of agriculture, to western Massachusetts. They anticipate planting 200 additional trees this spring and more over the next four years.

“We’re excited to try this out, be the guinea pigs and see what works,” Tower said.

Tower and Uprichard were inspired to delve into the business of nut farming after reading about regenerative agriculture, or farming that builds healthy soil. Uprichard has been in farming for three years, but this is his first commercial venture.

According to Tower, perennial plants are beneficial to the soil, which gives nut farming its appeal.

While researching perennial plants, Uprichard said, “We realized there aren’t any nuts commercially growing in our state.” So, the pair decided to take on the endeavor.

The downside is that the nuts take years before they are ready to harvest and Tower speculates that is why nut farming is not popular here.

Chestnuts and walnuts can take six to eight years before they are harvested for the first time, according to Tower. Hazelnuts generally take three years.

“It’s definitely a long-term kind of venture,” she said.

Once the trees are finally nut-bearing, though, they can be harvested every year, said Uprichard.

Next fall, Tower and Uprichard will collect 50 to 100 pounds of hazelnuts from trees they planted last spring.

Ten years from now, this harvest amount is expected to multiply. “One of the whole things about nut trees (is that) the older they get, the bigger they get and the more nuts they produce,” Tower said.

Hazelnut trees typically grow to be 10 to 15 feet tall. Walnut and chestnut trees, on the other hand, can extend up to 60 or 80 feet, Tower said. When the nuts are ripe in the fall, she explained, they drop to the ground. Tower and Uprichard count on their land to be covered in nuts in the coming years.

Currently, nut trees occupy one and a half acres of the land at Nutwood Farm. Tower and Uprichard hope to eventually expand to five acres of nut trees.

Hazelnut trees, the primary crop at Nutwood Farm, will be planted in groups called “plantings.” So far, the partners have planted one planting at the farm. They plan to set out five plantings over the next five years, according to Uprichard. When a planting reaches about six years old, he said, the trees in that planting will be coppiced. This, Tower explained, involves cutting the tree right down to the ground so it can sprout new roots again.

“I’ve never done nut farming before, so I’m definitely learning a lot as we go,” Tower said.

When they harvest their first major round of nuts, Tower and Uprichard plan to bring their bounty to local farmers markets. Some work will go into preparing the nuts for sale. For example, hazelnuts need to be dehusked and cracked, Tower explained.

In a decade, when the farm’s yield is much higher, Tower said, they may consider selling nuts wholesale to restaurants or bakeries.

“We’re hoping to also inspire and help other people incorporate nuts into their operations,” she said.

To help the development of nut processing and storage on Nutwood Farm, Tower and Uprichard have launched a crowdfunding campaign. They also held a launch party over the past weekend where they screened the film, “Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective,” at the Cummington Community House. About 100 people attended the filming, Uprichard said.

“We’re really excited about getting out there and letting people know what we’re doing and hopefully getting some support,” Tower said.