Historical Harvesting of the Black Walnut
For many centuries, the North American black walnut was everywhere in the Eastern United States. Gathering the nuts was a Fall ritual for people who lived near the woods. But the walnut tree was also coveted for its wood, so much so that in 1927 the Kentucky Department of Agriculture warned that the black walnut was a disappearing species.
Luckily, reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated. In fact, there is a coalition of interests in America that is protecting the black walnut. Their goal is to encourage limits on tree cutting and make sure that there is always new growth. Most importantly, they encourage people to collect and eat tasty nuts.
The Tradition of Harvesting Black Walnuts in Ohio
At Wheelersburg, in the hill country of southern Ohio, Christina Gerlach is doing her part. Through her feed store, Gerlach Farm and Feed, she buys any black walnuts that her neighbors collect when the nuts fall in October and November. In 2000, she purchased fifty-two thousand pounds of hulled walnuts, paying $10 for each one hundred pounds. In 2018, the sales price for a single 25-pound of bulk walnut is $135. So that’s $10 for 100 pounds hulled but still in the shell, and $540 for 100 pounds of walnuts taken out of their shells.
Collectors Give Walnuts to The Hammons Product Company
The Hammons Product Company of Missouri is the number one processor of walnuts in America. It is very likely that collected walnuts go here before ending up in the hands of customers.
Some collect nuts to add a little extra income to the household. One ninety-year-old woman always brings in a few, and it’s what she has always done in the Ohio hills in October. She says that she will continue to do this work as long as she is able. Some collectors bring in as little as a bushel of nuts for cash exchange, but some bring in much more. One man collected six thousand pounds over the course of three weekends, enough to fill his pickup six times!
For some, it’s a family event or celebration of the harvest. A Saturday outing that recreates earlier times for the grandparents and allows the grandchildren to experience what it was like back then. Those who show up to harvest black walnuts always obtain stained hands, a badge of honor for their Fall work under the black walnut trees.
Christina’s rural feed store is just one of 250 places in the thirteen walnut-growing states that gather these tough wild forest nuts for Missouri’s Hammons Company. The company started small way back in 1946 and today, it markets two million pounds of nuts each year. America’s largest processor and marketer of black walnuts. This growth is exciting news for nut and health enthusiasts. After all, the black walnut is one of the richest nuts, and the richer the nut, the better it is for us.