Editor’s note: Julia wrote this piece prior to the killing of George Floyd and subsequent unrest. The last few days have again revealed the structural inequality that persists in our cities. These gaps come in many forms, including in access to food. As grocery stories have been destroyed or shuttered throughout many parts of the Twin Cities, local food production is even more important. Thanks for your attention as we struggle to find ways to deal with the overlapping crises of climate change, disease, and racism.
Dear streets.mn friends, I’m writing to you from quarantine, having been lucky enough to be with my COVID+ cousin as he died this week – a “good” death in a still-rising tide of totally unnecessary human suffering and loss. He was the closest I’ve known to a big brother, a white-haired, scraggly-bearded man whom we called Bigfoot and children on the bus mistook for Santa Claus. And I keep thinking of the commune he lived on before I was born, a mix of people living in 70s solidarity who could find only one thing to agree on: that they needed to eat food. They called it Eater Farm.
As COVID lays painfully bare the fragility and weaknesses of globalization, the inflexibility of just-in-time inventories and siloed markets, we’re seeing many aspects of our industrialized food system shuddering in response. Farms are teetering into bankruptcy. Farm workers, already extremely marginalized and vulnerable, are unsupported. Many of the worst outbreaks in the US are in the very few industrial meat processing plants in the country. Grocery workers are deemed essential, given no PPE in their unregulated-by-epidemiologists workplaces, and paid less than if they were unemployed. Milk is being dumped. At the same time, food banks are straining under the demands of suddenly unemployed and furloughed people. Children aren’t able to get food assistance at schools. The food supply chains used by commercial kitchens are rigid and unwieldy, unable to change course to a market suddenly and almost entirely dominated by home-cooking.
For many of us, aware of the looming threats of climate breakdown, increasing food insecurity has long been a concern – along with the structural racism and white supremacy that underpins US disaster response. A warming climate brings with it increasingly frequent and intense droughts and floods and volatile extreme weather that physically threaten our staple crops. Layering on the instability of disrupted supply chains and brittle human-created systems, dependent on distant global inputs, means our food systems are extremely fragile.
But our food has not always been so disconnected from our lives, even in cities. The realities of urban agriculture – of who’s allowed to grow food and when and where – are fluid and political. We see this playing out in Falcon Heights as their city council targets a single individual working on increasing food security. We see it in the ways foraging and hunting for food get managed, in the way urban chickens are racialized, in the disingenuous NIMBY claims of sustainability of single-family homes.
Facing climate breakdown – and subsidiary crises like COVID – with resiliency means that we must figure out not just our political responses, but address and nurture robust responses to our collective needs as physical creatures. Like those of Eater Farm, we all need food daily, even if that’s the only thing we can agree on. And the more we can foster food resiliency all around us, the more able we’ll be to handle the layering crises before us.
Tree planting event details
To this end, the streets.mn Climate Emergency Committee is hosting our first event. This is a two-part hybrid digital/physical event.
Firstly, we’re offering seedlings for three different kinds of food trees: pecan-hickory hybrid, chestnut, and hazelnut. You can place an order using the form below. [Update: Seedlings were distributed on June 6th and 7th, and we plan to have a second tree sale in the fall. In the meantime, please feel free to continue to place orders for tree donations.]
Secondly, we’re inviting contributors to join the conversation on urban food for the two weeks immediately following that, June 8th-19th. We know that not everyone has yard access to plant longer-term food sources like these trees. This is part of why we’re also hosting a conversation here on streets.mn about urban food systems and infrastructure, and why we want you to be part of it. We’re hoping to bring together stories and resources that cover the wide range of topics around what and how we eat in cities, as well as historical perspectives and future dreams.
Food trees like these provide a high-calorie food crop that returns year after year, with mostly-passive effort from those growing them. They offer shade and habitat to other creatures in our complex and fragile ecosystems. And like all perennials, they sequester carbon in their roots – directly removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Jump to the end to read more about each of the tree varieties we’re offering.
We know that the history and potential of human-managed ecosystems (and where humans live within them!) is endless, and we’d love for you to contribute your photos, your poems, your academic papers, your garden plans, your food gardens, your walks around the city, what you’ve learned from your elders, what’s opened your eyes to abundance around us, the risks in our current system, and how growing things makes you feel. In particular, knowing that food insecurity within systems built on white supremacy is felt first and worst by those who are disenfranchised, colonized, and marginalized, and that urban food sovereignty has been criminalized, we hope to elevate the work being done within and by communities of color.
We invite you to contribute however you see fit. You’re welcome and encouraged to collaborate with others (or submit interviews), to be creative, to use this as an opportunity to explore new-to-you areas, to highlight barriers to urban food resiliency. Do a deep policy dive into state statutes governing urban food resiliency or show us the insidious decline of bulk-food and reusable containers. Share with us how the heat-holding qualities of brick can shift your grow zone or how to get the Park Board to plant food trees on our boulevards. Feel free to push the margins of “food” – we’re thrilled by your plant-dye stories, the art you make from street trash you glean, the home-brews you make, the baskets you weave, the yeast you’re growing, the walking sticks you carve, and the ways that the city landscape provides for you physically.
My cousin Bigfoot told my brother once that he wanted to be buried with a tree, to become nourishment to that which nourishes. Because of COVID, he’s being cremated, but we’ll bury him with a tree, maybe one of these, and gather together as family and loved ones whenever that is possible again, sharing food and stories. We – all of us who share this earth – are entering into something new, together, and we have so much to learn from each other, so much we can do in this moment of grief and uncertainty.
Even if the only thing we can agree on is that we all need to eat, that’s enough to connect us in creating a beautiful and abundant future, to repair our planet as we nourish one another. Even while we continue to physically distance from one another, we can grow together.
Please contact us if you want to volunteer or to talk through any ideas with Julia. You can also email Jenny Werness, Chair of the Editorial Board, to get set up with a writer’s account or with any questions about publishing to the website. Pat Thompson, who provided the tree information shown below, can help with any additional questions about the trees.
Buy or donate a food tree
Editor’s note 2018-06-09: The spring tree sale has ended, but you can still donate a tree to a local food desert using the form below. We plan to have a second tree sale event in the fall.
Streets.mn Climate Emergency Committee is offering these nut-bearing trees for sale at cost to help build food resiliency for the long-term. Detailed information about the plants is shown below the form. Each plant we have available is $5.50, with two plants needed to produce nuts (so $11.00 and enough space for two plants to grow to maturity). All are from Badgersett Research Farm in southeastern Minnesota, whose goal is to develop plants for profitable woody agriculture. For much more information on the trees, uses for the nuts, and more, see badgersett.com.
About the Plants
- The neohybrid hickory-pecan is not a hickory, pecan, or “hiccan.” It combines genes from pecans, shagbark hickories, and bitternut hickories. It is being actively selected now for real crop behavior: big, regular crops; thin shells; and clean processing.
- Pecans are not cold-hardy within 200 miles of southern Minnesota.
- Shagbark hickories do grow here, but are a wild species with erratic crops and heavy shells.
- Bitternut hickories grow far north in Minnesota, but are named correctly (they’re bitter!).
- Badgersett hickory-pecans are uniformly very thin-shelled, like a pecan, crack out clean, and have either a good pecan — or sometimes a good shagbark hickory — flavor. Beautiful flowers.
- Most plants will be hardy, but because these have been developed over just a few generations, significant seedling-to-seedling variability will be present. The characteristics of the parent are not a guarantee for the progeny yet, however! So by planting one of these trees you are participating in an experiment to develop a good nut tree for Minnesota.
- The trees have been hardy in test winters to -40°F. Please keep in mind that hickories put nearly all their energy into their roots in the first years, and under most conditions the top will look puny while the root gets massive. 60–80′ height (over decades), full sun
Badgersett Chestnut Hybrids
- Badgersett’s chestnut trees are a multigenerational cross among Chinese, American, European, Japanese, and Seguin chestnuts, selected for good nut production, cold hardiness, and resistance to Chestnut Blight, which is the disease that all but wiped out the American chestnut.
- Why grow chestnuts? Aside from the fact that they are a perennial crop that requires almost no care once the tree is established, the nuts have excellent protein, similar to both beans and maize. They spoil easily when fresh but keep for years if dried properly. They can be used fresh after roasting and in stuffing, and dried chestnuts can be ground for flour and used in bread and pasta.
- They begin bearing nuts as early as two years after planting, with almost all plants producing nuts by five years. They have good nut crops every year, unlike oaks and walnuts, which have some years of heavy production mixed with years of very small crops.
- Badersett’s trees are the most cold-hardy chestnuts available, but are considered trial in Zone 4. (It’s debatable whether the Twin Cities is still Zone 4 or is now Zone 5; outer areas of the metro should still assume they are Zone 4, and greater Minnesota may be Zone 3 or 2).
- Some seedling to seedling variability will be present — as with the hickory-pecans, you are part of an experiment. 70-110′ height by 50–60’ width (over decades) — full sun
- All-Purpose Select: Selected for mid-size nuts, good for wildlife.
- Nut Select: Selected for larger nuts, good for human consumption.
- Hazelnuts grow wild all around the Northern Hemisphere, and have historically been a popular food with people wherever they grow. North America has two native species, the American hazel (Corylus americana) and the beaked hazel (C. cornuta). A European tree hazelnut (C. avellana) is the one that has been commercialized and so is the hazelnut most people eat these days. Badgersett hybrids, developed in southern Minnesota since 1978, are crosses among these three species, developed with an emphasis on cold-hardiness and resistance to Eastern Filbert Blight. The nuts are one to three times larger than wild hazels, with thinner shells.
- Anything that can be done with a soybean could be done with a hazelnut, and more. Currently mostly known for Nutella and dessert confections, they are a food for the future!
- Hazelnuts are hand-picked from the ground when they’re mature but before the husk opens and drops the nuts, up to 2 weeks before the husk opens in mid-September, giving a long harvest window. A few nuts should appear when the shrub is three years, increasing to full crop at five years. Crops will continue to increase until age eight or so. Expect 1–2 pounds of dry nuts/year per shrub, with some bushes producing 4–5 pounds.
- Zone 4 and reasonable to try in Zone 3. Multi-stemmed shrub, 10-12’ height, 5-8’ width, full sun to partial shade
- Extra Large Select: Bred for the largest nuts, but less production per bush.
- Large Select: Bred for nuts big enough to sell in-shell and good nut production.