(Left) Bill Whipple; (right) Black walnuts
Ask Bill Whipple if he founded the Asheville-based Acornucopia Project, which works to advance perennial, nut-based agriculture through native cultivation and processing, and he’ll say, “It found me.” A grower and advocate of fruit trees since the early ’80s, Whipple fell for native nuts about a decade ago when he tried a cultivated black walnut that had been engineered to crack easily and yield a greater amount of meat than its wild counterpart. “It just melted apart in my hands,” he remembers. “That’s when my mind also cracked opened with possibilities.”
Since that auspicious day, he’s been dismantling misinformation about nuts, while also providing a base for accessible products like nut creams, flours, and crackers. For him, it’s about saving the planet—and our own health. “I’m calling this movement ‘treeganism,’” says the pun-adept Whipple. “Trees build soil. ... If you farm the same plot of land with traditional agriculture, 50 percent of the nutritional elements are gone. That creates deficiency.”
For Whipple, Acornucopia is also “an economic feasibility study.” Because nuts can be difficult to process, he and the rest of his three-person team are taking the work out of it for people who bring him their fallen acorns, black walnuts, pecans, and hickory nuts, offering cash, vouchers, or finished nut products in exchange. Collecting nuts is just one way the public can participate in the project. You can purchase the group’s nutty goods, and this fall, a nut-centric dinner fund-raiser is in the works with an award-winning Southern chef.
“Native trees are waiting to give,” Whipple proclaims, “and I’m the guy between them and us.” The thought sparks a final pun. “I’m a treecher!” he laughs. “Treeching the word of nuts.”