Nov 20, 2019
EXPO highlights new profit centers for vegetable growers

New sessions at the 2019 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO will introduce new crops to vegetable growers that will increase a grower’s offerings at farm market and beyond.

A century ago, the American chestnut was not only a tree highly prized for its delicious and nutritious fruit, but was also a fast-growing wood for furniture and construction and a great way to shade a city as it grew. Wild animals from bears to boars to birds enjoyed the food source, and the biodiversity it provided along the eastern seaboard and in Appalachia was important to the forest and diets alike.

Rot fungus all but wiped out the American chestnut a little over a century ago, leaving root systems intact but trees unable to grow. The natural regrowth process hard-wired into the trees hasn’t been able to bring them back from near-extinction.

“Before the blight, in the eastern U.S. — from Maine to Georgia — every fifth tree was a chestnut,” said Roger Blackwell, one of the EXPO speakers discussing the American chestnut and a researcher at Michigan State University (MSU).

A co-op of about 30 growers, including Blackwell, are working to change that. They’ve found that the chestnut demand far outstrips supply and that since the trees are quick to mature, that they can become part of a grower’s offerings within about six years of planting. Blackwell and Erin Lizotte, statewide senior Extension educator at MSU, will be speaking about the American chestnut and explaining how the crop can be integrated into a grower’s crops.

Chestnut trees prefer the same sort of environment as cherries and apples — an acidic sandy loam with a pH of around 5.5-6. They would work well with many Midwestern growers’ existing crop. The fruit of the American chestnut is notably sweeter than Italian chestnuts.

Blackwell suggests that even growers outside of the apple- and cherry-growing regions can become part of the early swell of American-grown chestnuts by purchasing land, so all growers should attend to learn about the opportunity to begin farming chestnuts.

“Chestnuts are a food source that is very healthy, and when grown it in the U.S., (they are) fresher than if you get them from Italy or even Korea. In our marketplace, when buyers that have an opportunity to buy them, they will buy our Michigan-grown first before Italian chestnuts,” Blackwell said. With vitamins such as folates and B-complex, minerals, fiber, protein and low fat and calorie levels, chestnuts are suitable for many specialty diets growers currently cater to — or to anyone just looking for a delicious new food to enjoy.

With the growth Blackwell expects in the marketplace, he is clearing 12 additional acres of his own land in which to grow chestnuts.

Another new profit center for vegetable growers is cut flowers. John Dole will discuss key points that growers need to know about specialty cut flowers. Dole is associate dean and director of academic programs at the college of agriculture and life sciences at North Carolina State University.

The session will cover basics for those looking to get into cut flowers, specifically looking at how to get the flowers from field or tunnel to cold storage to consumers. Growers will need to consider the marketing process, and Dole will also discuss what goes into marketing them for farm market or farm stands, but even specialty supermarkets can be a target for sales of cut flowers.

The requirements for adding cut flowers to a grower’s offerings include having the necessary space for processing and cooling, but also an understanding of the sensitive nature of cut flowers. Growers interested in adding them to their crops should definitely attend the session to learn more.

Registration for the 2019 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo is now open. To register to attend, visit


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