By Eleanor Reagan

As supply chains become increasingly unreliable and energy shortages more frequent, local food production and processing will become ever more crucial to rural communities. Acornucopia, a cooperative of nut growers, harvesters, and processors here in Appalachia, sees a forest-based economy as a potential solution.

The long-term goal for the group is to develop a network of local nut processing facilities that will enable communities to share harvests and processing equipment across regions. This would ensure that the yield and wealth from a mast harvest stays within communities rather than going to a centralized operation several states away.

Acornucopia founder Bill Whipple envisions optical technology and robotics will eventually replace hand-sorting and scale up the process.

“Once you get the tedious tasks out of the way,” says Whipple, “all of a sudden we’re back in the game for utilizing wild nuts again.”

While Acornucopia scales up, Whipple stays busy with the Nutty Buddy Collective, an orchard-based agriculture project that operates on privately leased land around Asheville, NC.

The collective forages hickory, black walnut, and acorn to produce and market seed oils through their partnering company Asheville Nuttery as planted cultivars mature on site. This land-share model incentivizes property owners to incorporate agroforestry practices into their conservation efforts, diversifies a local food system and strengthens existing nut-works.