It’s nuts not to invest in agroforestry in B.C.

Hazelnut farmers are ready to plant recently developed blight-resistant trees but they desperately need government assistance.

When I was growing up in Scotland, our diet was much more limited than the vast array of foodstuffs from around the world to which we are now accustomed. Because of the German embargo of Britain, foodstuffs acquired from the U.S. in quantity by the Ministry of Food, such as dried milk, dried eggs and Spam (made famous by Monty Python) became common. For a couple of years, my brother and I were sent to a country cottage outside Edinburgh, where we flourished on fresh milk and cream, garden fruits and vegetables. But the need to ration food was nationwide, and we all subsisted on carefully calculated maximum quantities of all staple foods.

When I was in my late teens, a university friend invited me to try a new delicacy, sent by overseas relatives: peanut butter. It was too late for me. I found it revolting. I just plain did not like the peanut flavour. To this day, I avoid nut mixes with peanuts. I avoid walnuts, too, because a close friend is allergic. I tend to keep almonds on my shelf for baking.

Hazelnut trees seemed to grow wild in the countryside around our town, and tasted delicious while still slightly green. But commercially, they only showed up in candies such as truffles and pralines.

I am becoming more interested in hazelnuts since I learned that they grow well on Vancouver Island.

I like the idea that we can make our own hazelnut butters in a food processor, flavour them to taste and store them in tight-lidded glass jars.

Since adopting the Carlos Monteira simple classification of foods into three types: Type 1, minimally processed and good for us; Type 2, processed for convenience to use when cooking with those good Type 1 foods; and Type 3, over-processed to the point of loss of nutritional value, I have been trying to think of how we could produce local oils to replace cooking and salad oils that are either not local or genetically modified, like canola, corn and soy. Two promising crops might be sunflowers and hazelnuts.

Now for the bad news: eastern filbert (hazelnut) blight has reached the Fraser Valley from Oregon and Washington and is wiping out our B.C. hazelnut industry which had been producing a million pounds of nuts a year.

According to Joanne Will in the Tyee last month, hazelnut farmers are ready to plant recently developed blight-resistant trees but they desperately need financial help from the provincial government. One nut farmer says farmers are “willing to take the trees out, which is a huge cost, to re-level the land, and we’re willing to babysit that tree for five or 10 years. All we’re asking for is that they pay for the tree, which is $12, roughly … $1.2 million will put a thousand acres back into production.”

Not a big sum, in the grand schemes of agricultural subsidies, particularly when we consider the potential of nut trees to contribute to agroforestry projects which could make us much more food self-sufficient in an uncertain future.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@shaw.ca.