Ag Center advocates sustainability at Chestnut Roast

The festival promotes in-state plants in conservation.
Wine Cellar and Bistro's executive chef Craig Cyr and sous chef Andy Burris prepare chestnut dishes Saturday at the sixth annual Missouri Chestnut Roast. It took place at the Horticulture and Agroforestry Research Center in New Franklin.

The Center for Horticulture and Agroforestry hosted the sixth annual Missouri Chestnut Roast Saturday in New Franklin, offering farmers a chance to promote the legume at the height of its harvest season and promoting the use of native plants as a method of conservation.

Chestnuts were the dominant product, with tables of vendors hawking their wares and high-profile chefs showing crowds how to use the nut in new creative dishes. The gathering's main purpose, however, was to promote the use of Missouri-grown plants to reduce environmental damage and help the state's agriculture industry as a whole.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who came to the festival and purchased a few bags of freshly harvested chestnuts, said the nut is a manageable crop for consumers just getting started in farming. Bond is a chestnut farmer himself.

"It is a means of providing good secondary income," Bond said. "And they had the idea that chestnuts would make a good secondary crop."

Bond said he understands the dedication farmers must have to turn a profit from his personal experience on his chestnut farm in Mexico, Mo.

"I'd been working with them on many projects and so I said, 'I'll try,'" Bond said of beginning his Chestnut farm. "I made a lot of mistakes, but this year we may turn a profit. When you're in tree farming, it takes a while."

Several booths focused on the use of native plants, like the chestnut. Nadia Navarrete-Tindall, a Lincoln University associate professor who collaborates with MU extention, worked at a booth distributing Spanish pamphlets about using local plants. Navarrete-Tindall, who is an extension specialist for native plants, said plants grown and sold in the same state are important in reducing environmental damage from transportation during harvest. She said she is now working to show small farmers that local crops are not only sustainable, but also profitable.

"What I do is mainly promote the use of native plants for conservation and the potential economic values," Navarrete-Tindall said. "We're hoping with the program at Lincoln now that we can bring others to it, either non-profit organizations and other groups and hopefully students who want to have some ideas for business."

The Missouri Department of Agriculture sent a representative from the AgriMissouri program to lend advice to farmers on connecting with local consumers. Marketing specialist Lane McConnell said AgriMissouri also emphasizes the importance of native plants.

"AgriMissouri provides marketing assistance and opportunities to Missouri food manufactures, farmers, producers, agritourism businesses and farmers' markets," McConnell said. "We attend a lot of trade shows to help bring consumer awareness to Missouri-made food products and help promote Missouri farmers' markets and agri-tourism operations."

The Agroforestry Center also offered resources of its own for the farmers in its audience, with kiosks explaining the benefits of different techniques of agroforestry and promoting the Missouri Exchange, an online market that connects Missouri farmers directly to in-state consumers.

Agroforestry Center spokeswoman Michelle Hall said while chestnuts got most of the attention, the larger focus of the event was promoting the products and issues of the state's agricultural industry as a whole.

"It's chestnut harvest time so in essence it's a harvest festival for the chestnut and we're promoting the chestnut," Hall said. "You know, we kind of bring together all specialty crops. Really, the chestnut is just kind of the representation of all specialty crops."

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