When I was growing up, we had a big chestnut tree in our backyard orchard. It was amazing. Every year, I excitedly stomped open those spiky shells, partially to excavate the chestnuts, partially because it was just fun. We roasted the chestnuts on our woodstove and, if there were enough, we baked it inside our favorite Thanksgiving treat: chestnut filling.
That chestnut tree is now gone.
On hikes around my parent’s home in rural Pennsylvania, you can still run across chestnuts that have fallen to the ground, but the trees die soon after they become mature….the blight has killed almost all of them. These once dominant trees, which grew so big you could host picnics under their branches, are now gone. We now buy our Thanksgiving chestnuts from Asia.
On a recent trip back to PA, my dad explained that our other fruit trees are now under attack. Just a few years ago, the spotted laternfly landed in a nearby county and is killing apple and fruit trees en masse. They feed on the fruity sap, reproducing so quickly that spraying and other pest mitigation tactics are often futile. Last year, farmers reported a few laternfly sightings, this year they are everywhere and they are killing the fruit trees.
His story reinforced for me the value of our work. We spend a lot of time talking about how much fruit we harvest and how many people we bring together, but the work that we all do to celebrate our city’s fruit also protects the trees themselves – after all, no trees, no fruit.
We already have lost too many trees to blight, to pests, to environmental change. I hope that the laternfly meets its demise because I can’t imagine my homeland without fruit. It is our food, our culture, our celebration.
This season, as many of us gather around a tree and share food to celebrate, let us remember just how important all of these trees really are and how much we still need to protect them.
And, if you have fruit trees, take advantage of the post-Harvest season, to take care of them. You, or somebody before you, planted that tree to ensure that generations to come will be able to savor its fruit!
P.S.: If you want to read more about the demise of the chestnut trees or other American trees, we recommend this book.
City Fruit Executive Director