Chestnut trees make a comeback in Virginia

Since the introduction of chestnut blight to North America in the early 1900s, American chestnuts very rarely reach maturity. They sprout but are killed by the blight once they reach a certain size. Photo by Rachel Collins.

Fresh chestnuts are once again available in Virginia, benefitting cooks who go nuts over using local ingredients in holiday dishes.

The American chestnut was wiped out a century ago. Although Jack Frost nipped at American noses, and yuletide carols were sung by multiple choirs, there were no U.S.-grown chestnuts to roast over an open fire.

However, in recent years, a handful of Virginia farms have found a way to maintain blight-resistant orchards. Marketing collectively as Virginia Chestnuts LLC, they are harvesting thousands of pounds of fresh chestnuts each year.

David and Kim Bryant of Nelson County grow the Dunstan chestnut, a hybrid of American and Chinese chestnuts developed for blight resistance. They purchased their first trees in 2009 and hand-planted them. Today they have 1,600 on 23 acres. In the spring they sell chestnut seedlings to buyers from around the country.

“We’re trying to introduce chestnuts to a new group and grow the demand for them organically,” David Bryant explained. “Right now we’re selling out what we have, so we’re doing well, but we’re looking to expand.”

Chestnut harvest typically lasts six weeks, beginning around Sept. 20 and ending in October. “The bulk of our chestnuts fall in October,” Bryant said. “We continually harvest some every day, often twice a day.”

In 2015 the Bryants established Virginia Chestnuts, which sources chestnuts from six local orchards including their own, processes the nuts and sells them directly to customers. Sales are handled mostly online at and by word of mouth.

“We found they can be packaged and shipped within one to two days, and when they arrive customers can put them in the fridge and they’ll last about two weeks,” Kim Bryant shared.

All chestnuts sold by Virginia Chestnuts have been washed, sanitized, dried and weighed and kept in cold storage, and growers are all U.S. Department of Agriculture Good Agricultural Practices-certified.

Tony Banks, commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation noted that chestnuts “are ideal for traditional dishes and meals, especially during the holiday season. It’s great to see that we have local farmers devoted to bringing back a classic American food.”

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