Monday, December 21, 2015

Rejoice! Rejoice! - well, sort of...

"Good news- Bad news" stories used to be a kind of joke.  Sometimes these days it can seem like "bad news-bad news" - unless you go out of your way to find some good somewhere.

The Rejoice! part- we did finally get our excellent chestnut crop stabilized, in regard to temperature and spoilage.  So; in case you were holding off on ordering some- now would be the time!  We had to re-invent our sorting process, find a new way to get bad nuts out; we did. Order away.

The well, sort of... - it turns out the Global Warming Grinch is quite versatile.  He's getting us right now in ways I didn't mention before; but ways that can wear us out.

Our nut storage cellar is at a stable 35°, after a couple seriously cold nights; not perfect, but ok.

But now; the air temperature is back well above freezing; and our frozen soil is now covered with a nice 1/4 inch of - wet mud.

This is no joke for us; all our farm work patterns have developed on the idea this is Minnesota, and we have winter here- the ground will be either frozen hard by now; or covered in snow.  We're totally prepared for either.  But not for mud.

Mud makes it impossible to get vehicles around on our wonderful sod roads- they'll get ripped down into dirt, and never recover.  So we wind up doing a lot of walking.  If you've ever been here, you'll understand how much - our operation is spread all over 160 acres; it's 1/4 mile from the cellar to the greenhouse, where we pack nut orders; and another 1/4 mile from there to the place the cars are parked.

Livestock - plans are messed up.  The Icelandic sheep thrive in snow- if there is any in the paddock, they will refuse to drink any water you provide.  No snow.  Have to haul water - on mud, by hand.  Plus; both the sheep and the horses will turn their paddock into a pig pen- if left too long on thawed sod- ruining next year's grazing (and generating a huge field of thistles).  So - we have to move them; at a time of year when that's not in the plans.

Walking on icy mud- is deadly dangerous, not a joke at all.  And- it really looks like this warm Pacific air thing will run well into mid January, at least...

And our bright sun-on-snow winter days- are on the gloomy side; brown grass and bark.

But!  The nuts are in good shape.  And I am so NOT going to say "things could be worse..."

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Global Warming Grinch..

Folks; below is a press release we're trying to spread around; please give it a read, and pass it on to friends- and any journalists you may know!  Photos at the bottom; keep in mind this is a "press release", not really a "blog post"- took me about 2 days to make this as short as it is!

18606 Deer Road, Canton, MN  55922-9740
888 557-4211;

PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate Release; 12/11/15
Key Words: climate change, unexpected impact, holidays, christmas, grinch, Paris, global warming, chestnuts, perennial agriculture, biomass fuel, holiday food, wine, beer, cheese, prosciutto, food security, sustainable farming, artisanal foods

Global Warming Grinch Steals Holiday Chestnuts

Trees and forests have been at the top of the agendas at the Paris Climate Conference.  But here is a new twist on the story: the Global Warming Grinch is not only stealing the snow from children across the US - our chestnuts are being stolen too.  Right now.  And he’s coming for your wine and cheese.

(photo of Badgersett chestnuts; photos at end of this release, or by email)

“We were blindsided.” says Philip Rutter, of Badgersett Research Farm.  “This was the warmest autumn on record for Minnesota; we were fully aware of that, and took steps to cope.  Chestnuts are as perishable as apples - one of the reasons they are so prized at the winter holidays.  And storage temperature is a known factor; they need cold storage as soon as possible.”

“What we didn’t see coming was - our deep cold storage cellar is now too warm, and using long tested methods, we couldn’t get it cool enough.  In Minnesota we’ve always had plenty of perfectly reliable cold air; and Nature did our refrigeration. This year the cellar was 15°F warmer than our 25 year average- and before we knew it, the chestnuts were spoiling faster than we’d ever seen.

“I’ve talked to folks using traditional earth cooling for their crops, across the country- and many report the same thing.  Seriously??  Underground storage is already hotter.  Too hot. The way we’ve handled our crops for decades, even centuries - can’t be counted on.  Wherever you are in the world- buy your holiday chestnuts as soon as you can.  It looks like a short year - because of Global Grinching.  That’s what we’re calling it now.

“It won’t be just chestnuts - the Warming Grinch is coming after your wine, beer, cheese, salami, prosciutto - and far more.  Artisanal producers of those foods rely on traditional seasonal temperature variations.  No wine or cheesemaker can afford to bet that next year will be normal; you’re going to see an enormous amount of new refrigeration installed.  More energy needed; more heat produced.  I don’t think that new expense, or the scale of it, was on anyone’s list of what to expect. Particularly not this soon.“

One of the dangers of Climate Change, aka Global Warming, is that it may cause changes no one anticipated.  Exactly that has happened this year: with direct impact on your holiday.

Badgersett’s chestnuts weren’t ambushed by ignorance: as Founding President of The American Chestnut Foundation, a Past President of The Northern Nut Growers Association, and a chestnut producer for 20+ years, Rutter knows chestnuts.  “By their first names.” he smiles.

Nor is he a stranger to climate change science.  An evolutionary ecologist, he has been an invited speaker at international climate conferences, and was a winner of the 2013 MIT Climate CoLabs Contest in Forestry And Agriculture.  He knows the theories, and the data.  “Even in 1988, the conference in DC was ‘Preparing For Climate Change’.  I hate that phrase “global warming” - it’s a cheap oversimplification, probably invented by an oil company; but this year it was actual warming that clobbered us.

 “For 25 years, by late October our big ‘root cellar’, and all the nuts, could be cooled to 35°F day and night; by manipulating ventilation. We’d get it even cooler into November, just using night-time frosty air.  The chestnuts kept perfectly...  but basically, we can’t ever count on natural cooling again.  We can’t afford to.”


High resolution photos available; and many more topics

Philip A. Rutter

Phone 507-742-8282  - or - 507-481-6946, Megan Rutter cell: calls will be returned.

Map: PDF, or Google Maps, Badgersett Farm.

Book: “Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts: The New Resilient Crop For Climate Change”

Badgersett website;


FaceBook: Badgersett Research Corp


Chestnuts are special for many people at the holidays; and not just because of the ‘Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire’ song.  The song was written when most listeners had personal experience with holiday chestnuts; and the childhood memories of chestnuts made the song a classic - not the other way around.

“Upshot; while we harvested around 2,000 lbs of premium chestnuts this year - for the first time, spoilage caused by warm temperatures will mean our supply is a good deal less than that.  Some folks- may not be able to get theirs. “ says Rutter. 15° above target in the perishable food world is a disaster.”

The Paris Climate Change Conference has focused a great deal on the need for more trees, and better care of existing forests.  Badgersett has a different angle on trees- they are developing advanced genetics to allow planting trees - on good agricultural lands - for main food crops.  And they produce wood, too; biomass fuel.  “Little known fact- trees can capture around 3 times the carbon in on year that regular crops like corn do.  That means they have 3 times the energy available; yes they can make food; and wood too. Proven.”

Not all the chestnuts are spoiled, of course.  “We’ll ship them out as long as the supply lasts- instead of 98% perfect, we’re only able to ship around 92% perfect this year- the way it’s happened, our usual separation technologies have not been enough; we’ve had to invent brand new ways to find and separate bad nuts- including the ones with nothing you can see.  Just take a look before you chomp it all- if you see black/gray spots - toss it, and take the next one.

A special irony to this story is that Badgersett Research Farm has been dedicated for almost 40 years to developing new crops for - perennial agriculture, one of the holy grails of sustainability.  And just this year, Badgersett successfully accomplished a major leap toward bringing chestnuts back into world food crop status.  By adding sheep to the system.  Only to lose many to climate change- exactly what they work against.

“This year, with the help of a grant from the Shuttleworth Foundation, we’ve made sheep a permanent part of our management.  They do a better job of making grass short than any machine ever could.  We harvested the biggest chestnut crop in years, because the sheep made it possible.  There’s a Catch 22, though- once you start grazing under the trees; the grass grows faster and taller, so you need more grazing.  But that means more wool to sell; more lamb produced - more cash.  Tractors and mowers just give you bills for diesel fuel and the mechanic.”

(photo of sheep in deep grass)

Badgersett has produced a book this year, “Growing Hybrid Hazelnuts: The New Resilient Crop For Climate Change”.  Reviews have been excellent: Joel Salatin: “Sign me up!”, Booklist: “a godsend”, Steve Gabriel: “a roadmap”.


“Scoffers ask ‘where were chestnuts ever major food?’  They haven’t done their homework; food historians know.  In western cultures, chestnut flat bread is the second oldest known; only chickpea is older.  Wheat bread came maybe a thousand years later.  In China; one traditional name for chestnut translates as ‘the rice from trees’.  Across the world, civilizations were actually launched with nut and tree crops, and only later did plows and grass seed (wheat, ed.) happen.  Dates, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts- we think of them as luxuries now, but it was not that way at the dawn of civilization.  Research has recently calculated that gathering nuts can bring as much food into the tribe as efficiently as skilled hunting.” Rutter says.

Chestnuts are not the only new crop from trees Badgersett is developing; using a non-GMO breeding technique unlike standard crop breeding, Rutter has produced two other candidates for “real food” production; hazelnuts, and a new hybrid pecan.  “I started out in 1978 to use a phenomenon known as a ‘hybrid swarm’ to generate new crop characteristics in these woody plants.  No one had ever heard of it, except evolutionary scientists, back then.  Now that DNA analysis is so cheap and common, we see that nature creates new species out of hybrid swarms all the time.” Rutter shakes his head; “Regular crop breeders rarely understand, because the process is very unlike the standard process.  What we’re doing is really a form of accelerated evolution; using complex mixtures of at least 3 species at a time.  We’ve started calling these crops ‘neohybrids’, because no existing name fits, at all.

“The neohybrid hazelnuts are closest to ‘ready for prime time’; we’ve harvested them with a blueberry picking machine for 3 years, and the 3rd cycle hybrid selections are predictable and productive enough for farmers to think about.

“Just this week I heard from John Petersen, Head of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, that his students had finished analyzing this years data on their planting of neohybrid hazels.  John has been using this planting as a teaching tool for his Systems Ecology classes, and to generate some real data on possible biomass fuel and food crops. These plants are only 4 years old- seedlings in 2011, and the students report nut production equal to a rate of 1,000 lbs per acre.  Plus some wood now too big for their original methods to measure.

“Which is where we get back to the conversations in Paris. We can now produce as much food per acre as soybeans- from the neohybrid hazelnuts.  Harvest by machine. Plus, the nutshell is available for biomass fuel every year.  Plus- the wood itself is harvested periodically; more biomass.”



Higher resolution photos available; and many more topics available

Philip A. Rutter

Phone 507-742-8282  - or - 507-481-6946, Megan Rutter cell: calls will be returned.

Map: PDF, or Google Maps, Badgersett Farm.

Badgersett website;

FaceBook: Badgersett Research Corp

Badgersett chestnuts

Caption: Badgersett Icelandic sheep at work under apples; deep grass is response to grazing.

 Oberlin neohybrid hazelnut bushes; 3 years old (planted July 2011; photo June 2014); names on request