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What staple crops grow on trees, and why am I not eating them?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 66
Location: Eastern Great Lakes lowlands, zone 4/5
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I really like trees and would like to survive more from them. I am also pushed to do so without becoming a forest hermit. THUS I ask:

What are staple foods from trees?

Looking at adding trees into agriculture, there's some stuff about niche markets and agroforestry combinations of trees with conventional crops. Yet, not much about trees themselves producing staple foods. I understand it is not realistic to eat apples and apricots every meal, but what about nuts?

I've heard about indigenous people of northern and eastern USA making lots of use of acorns and other tree nuts for flours, nut meals, that sort of thing which can be turned into breads, pudding, porrage, ? I've heard wonder stories about chestnuts. I've felt firsthand what abundance can be found with some time and a basket around mature nut trees.

At the same time, even when I try to cook my own food in environmentally friendly ways, I find myself relying on corn, rice, beans, and wheat as the foundations of my meals. I also cook with fats that do not come from trees, like olive oil or sunflower oil, and despite sunflowers growing in my neck of the woods the sunflower oil is always from elsewhere. Yet I have seen and tasted the delectable (though potent) oil of hazelnuts!

Why am I not eating tree nut flours and oils for most of my meals? Or even...any!

I have eaten acorn pancakes and they were quite tasty, something I think I could replace bread with. Yet I haven't gotten any more! Is it my own priorities and lack of focus in this direction, and even then, why is it not more apparent that tree crops can be staple foods? Can they be, or to a limited extent, or not at all?

In honor of anyone reading this and sharing some insights to help get us to staple foods from trees, I will go order acorn flour right now and eat more of it regularly, prioritizing getting more and more tree-friendly sources of food.
 
Posts: 120
Location: Qld, Australia. Zone 9a-10
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Part of the solution could be not eating bread or flour products. While everyone has their own preference and suitability towards different diets, I prefer to eat mostly meat and vegetable, with a small amount of fruit. I have no need for flour. There are a range of good tree nuts in the US. In Australia there are a small number of species, apart from macadamias, which need subtropical conditions, there is a variety of 'kurrajong' species that have highly nutritious seeds. Many of the Australian acacias also have edible seeds that can be used to make flour.


R Spencer wrote:I also cook with fats that do not come from trees, like olive oil



Olive trees ;) are good for food and oil. The problem is you would need lots to justify getting an oil press, unless there are really small/cheap presses that I'm not aware of. They are worth getting for food alone anyway. Olive farms are fairly good AFAIK, so no shame in buying it.

Just noticed your zone, not sure if any of these things may be suitable in your area. I will leave the post anyway, might help someone else.
 
gardener
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Location: Ohio, USA
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Great question! I've been working towards self sustainability for years and the switch of the staples is probably the hardest. Staples are a few crops that store well so you can use them whenever, and they are grown in enough quantity to meet your caloric intake and have small enough negative constituents that you can eat tons without huge side affects.

In my ideal there wouldn't be 5 "staples", but instead much more variety. Pecans for pie crust, squash spiralized for noodles (squash is ab annual, but here it grows in trees and just about every where you let it), and a diet that doesn't rely on staples. That probably means rethinking your way of cooking. Pumpkin pie may be more or less the same, but you might rely more on trail mix for snack rather than pretzels or potato chips. You might eat a smoothie for breakfast rather than a slice of toast, etc.

As for why else you might not be eating them: they aren't as heavily subsidized here in the U.S. so their upfront cost to consumers is more. Almond flour is significantly more expensive than wheat flour, though I can't imagine it taking significantly more effort to make it. It will also go bad faster since it has a higher fat and protein content.

Here I am working on making acorns easy. We eat a lot of winter squash- stuffed pumpkin, pie pumpkin, spiralized pumpkin, soup pumpkin, stew, stir fry, etc, and I am awaiting patiently for my fruit anf nut trees to produce better.  I also harvest maple seeds, which are a nice crunch bit to add to salad. However, there's no staple crop because I plant such a variety.
 
pollinator
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Location: Western Washington
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It's a good question. The answer depends on where you live.

In temperate North America, chestnuts are good for starch. Acorns, walnuts, hazelnuts, pinenuts, and even some new (for us) varieties of nut tree are all options (like Yellowhorn and Chilean nut). Pecans can work too. Most of these are good sources of fat and protein.

Fruit can be a staple in fresh, dried, and other preserved form. There are also vegetables you can harvest from leaves (linden and mulberry leaves, for example, or the leaves of Chinese fragrant spring tree, among others). Other trees have edible blossoms and leaves, which I think is really cool.

As for why it's not common, subsidies play a role as mentioned. I think it also has to do with American mentality. Most people seeking to develop a farm want (and sometimes desperately need) a short term yield, so they plow it and plant annuals instead of covering the land with trees. The modern approach has many drawbacks of course, and I think also people are just unaware of what's possible. When I started my farm I was surprised at how many things could grow in Washington State, Zone 8. The list of trees that thrive is overwhelming. But most people, like me in the past, have no idea that such things are possible. I was similarly surprised when I helped a friend plan a food forest in Wisconsin, Zone 4. Even with the cold there is a huge variety available to him.

A permaculture friend of mine has said a few times that she thinks annuals are important to include in our plantings, because they add diversity in their own way. I think she's right. I admire your push towards eating more from trees, but I don't think you have to write of gardening and annual vegetables entirely. As Amit said, crops like squash can be great and very sustainable to grow. In terms of staples I like growing corn, tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, potatoes, etc. Longer term I'd like to get the bulk of my food from trees, but I'll probably always grow some annuals, even if just for fun.
 
Posts: 365
Location: Rural Unincorporated Los Angeles County Zone 10b
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We grow almonds as a staple crop.
The trees do very well where we live.



 
gardener
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Location: Maine, zone 5
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For carbohydrates from trees I've been focused mainly on growing chestnuts to take the place of acorns and their need for leaching (though it's a bit fun) and maple syrup as I'm surrounded by more maples than I can manage.  I'm looking forward to seeing what else folks post here!
 
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Trees produce the best food for humans, part of that is because we were apes living and evolving on trees, fruits and nuts are one of the few food you can eat raw and that taste amazing, try that with meat, or grains or smth. Even vegetables require salt and oils to become really good stuff.
The problem is the short lifespan of humans compared to that of trees, most trees are too long investment.
Chestnuts have the best potential for a staple, its amazing how good it taste, and you just have to boil it a little bit, but for me there is no grain or potato or smt. that taste better than the chestnut, and it is not just some wishful thinking, I liked that stuff even as a kid, knowing crap about the world lol.
And when you eat them, everyone is just slightly different, its like every time you are thinking "what I will get this time?", maybe a bad one? That just make it even more interesting lol!

And actually if I eat too much of some other staple I can feel really bad after that, but with chestnuts I have tried that intentionally, eating as much as possible and waiting for some negative response, but that thing never happens, the chestnut is a magic!
 
pollinator
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It has been a joke in our house that meat grows on trees. We have some chickens that like to roost in a tree.  Also there are the squirrels.  I guess it boils down to what type of variety of food you look at as coming from a tree.
 
pollinator
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Instead on trying to find staples that grow on trees what's worked for me has been to re-center my diet around something other than starchy carbs. I eat a lot of squash, summer and winter. But mostly dairy, eggs and bits of fresh produce.
 
Greg Mamishian
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We're big fans of almonds because they don't need any processing or even roasting. All we do is remove the outer husks and put the nuts out to dry in the Sun while they're still in their shells.

Some of the benefits of eating almonds...



While nut harvests can vary widely from year to year depending on weather conditions, the trees are very easy to tend.



 
R Spencer
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Greg, almonds are an awesome nut, but in my neck of the woods they wouldn't have a chance at least for now while we get frosts well past March. I do still eat (and sometimes drink) lots of almonds, but most of them are grown in California where I understand monocultures do a lot of harm to regional water resources.
 
R Spencer
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Thanks everyone for the thoughtful replies. Lots of good ideas: diversify my staple crops, embrace a variety of homegrown annuals to supplant my reliance on staple crop monocultures, and keep pursuing tree nuts.

I guess with tree nuts they either take a bunch of processing (acorns and various other nuts), or don't last so long (chestnuts), or have too strong a flavor for everyday consumption (hazelnuts). On the processing point I'm still surprised it isn't easy to find acorn flour ready to eat, but I guess the issue is after it's prepared it doesn't have as long shelf life as conventional flours?
 
Stacy Witscher
pollinator
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R Spencer - From my point of view, wheat flour is preferable to other starchy flours because of gluten. I'm well aware that some people have issues with gluten, but from a culinary perspective it's amazing. Other flours just don't perform the same way. I've played around with a lot of wheat flour alternatives, and while one can make some nice tasting foods, they aren't the same. This is why I don't like "replacement" foods, I prefer a dietary shift, or just a reduction of starch for periodic indulgences. I don't really like fake mashed potatoes, but adding some parsnip puree, and pumpkin puree, along with cheeses and more flavor via garlic, and caramelized onions, makes me forget it isn't just potato.
 
Greg Mamishian
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R Spencer wrote:Greg, almonds are an awesome nut, but in my neck of the woods they wouldn't have a chance at least for now while we get frosts well past March. I do still eat (and sometimes drink) lots of almonds, but most of them are grown in California where I understand monocultures do a lot of harm to regional water resources.



Of course climate is the ultimate dictator of what grows. The blessing is that there are so many varieties adaptively suited to their environment. California produces 80 percent of the world's Almonds so we figured they'd do pretty well. California also produces 25% of the world's Pistachios.
 
pollinator
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Siberian Pea shrub?  

Not a staple according to cultural use, but caloric content and potential ability to be ground and used as flour, probably may be there to count it as such (I was going to mention Mesquite, but that probably won't grow well up north where you are).  
It's also a nitrogen fixer, so an added bonus!
 
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Raw apples aren't much of a staple food but cooked ones sure are. Historically the vast majority of apples consumed were either cooked or made into cider. Personally I could see myself getting half of my calories from apples that way and another 30% from other tree crops, mostly nuts, with the remaining 20% being animals, possibly raised under the very same trees.

Although I don't really share the aversion to annuals and I even like growing and eating grains and potatoes, if I wanted to go full forest garden that's how I'd do it. If I tried to eat more than a few hundred calories of raw fruit a day on a regular basis I'm quite certain I'd become very sick of it rather quickly.
 
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