Wild Foods

Acorn: A shared heritage for humanity

Acorns (sometimes called Oaknuts in international markets) have been one of humanity’s most important staple crops since before modern humans even existed – archaeological sites in the middle east dating back as much as 780,000 years include evidence of acorn consumption by early hominids. 

The influence of oak trees and acorns on the human imagination can hardly be overstated. In legend, the Welsh god of poetry, Taliesin, ascended after accidentally eating a bit of acorn mash from the tree of knowledge and many ancient Celts considered acorns sacred. The ancient Greeks used acorns to symbolize fertility while the Vikings associated acorns with Thor and imagined Yggdrasil, the world tree, as a mighty oak. In the Karuk story of the Acorn Maidens, the Acorns began as  Ikxareyavs (spirit people) who came into the world to help humanity thrive. Some anthropologists have even claimed that the abundance of acorn in California is why there are so few stories of famine and starvation in native Californian cultures prior to colonization.

Today acorns are an important crop in Korea and China and are consumed as specialty foods in Spain, Portugal, and Morocco; and of course many California Indians still harvest and eat them as a staple food – a tradition dating back thousands of years.

As climate change causes crop failures around the world, Acorns are once again attracting notice – from the Italian government’s recent study which concluded they should actively support the reintroduction of acorn as a food crop to Scientific American and other US publications running dozens of articles in recent years walking through the steps to harvest and process acorn. In our time of need, we’ve found an old friend waiting for us and wondering what took us so long.

Oaks are a critical part of California’s Ecology

California has some of the best food grade acorns in the world, and mature California Oaks – depending on the species – can drop up to a ton of acorns in a mast year. California produces $8B worth of tree nuts every year, and yet native tree nuts like Acorn and Bay Nut are missing from that picture. Worse, many of the orchards that grow non-native nuts stand on former Oak forests. In addition to the direct damage to habitat this causes, it’s completely unnecessary – native oaks produce more food per acre than most domesticated nuts.

As aquifers are depleted and salmon threatened with extinction from river diversions to water thirsty non-native crops like Almond that consume up to a gallon of water per nut, it is more important than ever to look at native tree nuts like Acorn that don’t require irrigation. In 2024 alone, our Acorn and Bay nut harvest will save more than 50 million gallons of water, compared to an equivalent amount of Almond. By 2025 we expect to 5x that number.

Even beyond water use, native oaks are keystone species that support an incredible array of other species. Since colonization, Oak forests in California have shrunk rapidly as they’ve been cleared to make way for farms and cities and by some estimates half of California’s native oak trees are now threatened with extinction. This is a catastrophe for every other species that relies on them.

Oak forests support incredible biodiversity including 2,000 plant species, 170 birds, 100 mammals, 60 amphibians and reptiles, and 4,000 insect species. They are home to more than half of California’s terrestrial vertebrate species. Losing these magnificent trees has ripple effects across the entire food web and harms every other part of California’s unique biosphere. 

By incentivizing land owners to keep oak forests standing in the short term and reclaiming and replanting former oak forests that have been damaged and destroyed over the longer term, we can turn the tide and protect this critical part of California’s wild ecosystem. And we can do it while producing high quality food to feed people in a changing climate.

To know a place, eat its food

It has often been said that it’s impossible to know a place or a people until you know their food. California has a rich and diverse culinary heritage. From more than a hundred native culinary traditions stretching back to time immemorial, to Californio cuisine which blends Mexican, Native, Basque, Catalan, and Castilian influences, to the radical diversity of new foods brought by people from every corner of the world; California’s food is as diverse as its people.

Unfortunately, many modern Californians have never tasted our native foods. Even among those in the know, acorn flour is expensive and incredibly time consuming to produce by hand.  By making quintessentially Californian ingredients like Acorn available to the mass market at affordable prices for the first time, we will spur a renaissance in Californian Cuisine and bring the native flavors of California to restaurants and dinner tables across our State.

For native communities, it has long been challenging to source acorn flour for tribal food programs. By offering bulk pricing and discounts on purchases by tribes, we can make these important traditional foods a staple crop once again.

Bay Nut: A uniquely Californian Luxury

The California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica) only grows in California and is found along rivers and streams in oak and redwood forests. It is relative of the Cinnamon, Avocado, and European Bay trees – and no less remarkable than it’s better known cousins!

While they’re inedible raw, roasted Bay Laurel nuts are packed with nutrition and natural stimulants. They have a deep rich flavor somewhere between chocolate and coffee, and a creamy texture . Spanish and Mexican colonizers in California fell in love with Bay Nuts almost as soon as they got here, and they quickly replaced expensive and hard-to-get chocolate in mole sauces and more. Chefs since then have incorporated them into everything from truffles to nut brittle to brownies; and the biggest limit on their adoption has been that – up until now – there has been no commercially available supply.

Roasted and lightly salted bay nuts are delicious and give a gentle energy boost that makes them the perfect snack, whether you’re hiking a trail or trying to stay sharp at the office.

Ground to nibs, Bay nut can brew a nourishing beverage that’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to choose between the flavors of coffee and dark chocolate. Ground fine, it can be used as a 1:1 substitute for chocolate or coffee in recipes of all kinds.

Nuts aren’t the only thing the Bay Laurel has to offer – its leaves have been prized for generations by chefs who use it as a replacement for European bay leaves in soups and stews. It’s much stronger so you only want to use a third as much – but those in the know agree it has a better flavor.

What’s in a Bay Nut?

Up to half the mass of roasted bay nut is a smooth and creamy fat with properties somewhere between palm oil and cocoa butter. The natural stimulants it contains are similar to caffeine, but wear off a bit faster. They are around 15% protein, very low in carbs, and a good source of essential amino acids like Leucine. Leucine is used by the body to fuel biosynthesis of proteins and build muscle, and is hard to find outside of animal sources like fish and milk.

Though it has been eaten for thousands of years, this native superfood has not been well studied by modern science – yet. Manzanita Cooperative’s in-house science team is working hard to diver deeper and we expect to be able to provide full nutritional profiling before we go to Market in the fall.

An ethical and climate adapted alternative

While everyone loves Chocolate and Coffee, most people try hard not to think much about how they’re produced. The use of slave labor in the chocolate and coffee industries is well documented. Both crops are also directly linked to the destruction of rainforests. Chocolate is also one of the crops projected to be most impacted by climate change, and crop failures are already severely impacting the price of cocoa.

By contrast, our wild-harvested Bay Nuts are grown without any irrigation or pesticides in intact oak forests throughout Northern California. Funds paid to landowners for harvest rights directly support keeping these ancient forests intact. Our harvest crews are paid living wages and all processing is done in-house by our team of worker-owners in our democratically run cooperative.

California Bay nut is the clear choice for consumers who care about human rights and the environment – or who just want to support a local business creating good jobs in one of California’s most economically challenged regions.

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Restoring habitat and diversifying food supplies in a changing climate isn’t just good for humanity, it’s good business. While the majority of Manzanita Cooperative’s shares are owned by our worker-owners, we are authorized to sell a minority stake to investors to raise funds. 

The work we are doing to produce nutritious climate-adapted foods for people while cutting carbon emissions, saving water, and preserving habitat is essential. Bringing living wage jobs to North Coast communities that have long been neglected is just as important to people living here.

Like any new business, it takes money to get off the ground and so we are seeking Angel investors who share our vision to support our launch. We expect to provide very strong ROI and a full investor kit including financial models and terms, is available on request. Please contact invest@manzanitacooperative.com

Projected dividends per share from our financial projections.

Sell to Manzanita

Our team will be out and about from late August to early December and setting up buy days and harvesting appointments across Northern California. We pay by the pound for harvest rights and for quality nuts that are sustainably harvested in Mendocino County, Lake County, Humboldt County, and Sonoma County.

In 2024, we are buying:

  • White oak Acorns
  • Bay Laurel Nuts

In the future we will also be buying native pine nuts, hazelnuts, and manzanita berries.

Code of Conduct for third-party producers:

  1. Only harvest with permission. Harvests on private land must be either the owner of the land where the foods were harvested or operating with the owner’s written permission. We are not currently buying nuts harvested on publicly owned lands.
  2. Obey all applicable State, Federal, Local, and Tribal laws. By selling to MCI you certify that you have researched the laws governing your community and are in full compliance.
  3. If you are wild harvesting, leave some for wildlife and others. Many wild foods are critical for the survival of native species, and the plants in turn are reliant on those species for pollination and seed dispersal. Our goal is to preserve and steward our forests, not strip them bare. We leave at least 50% of the total harvest for the year for wildlife and expect our partners to do the same.
  4. Native communities get preference. We will not sign any agreement for harvest rights or purchase from third party producers whose operation displaces an existing harvest site for any recognized Tribe or Band. If you represent a tribe or band and are interested in having us harvest and/or process acorn for or with you, please reach out to foragers@manzanita.coop so we can work out a mutually beneficial agreement.
  5. If you learn of unethical conduct by any supplier, please report it to foragers@manzanita.coop. We will investigate immediately and terminate our business relationship with anyone who violates these guidelines. We will pay a bounty for any tip leading to an investigation that finds fault.

How it Works

  1. Email foragers@manzanita.coop to talk to our foraging team and let them know if you want to sell nuts or have our teams come on-site to your property to do the harvest.
  2. For land owners and managers who would prefer to have us do the harvest ourselves and who have a sufficient volume, we will schedule a harvest crew to come on-site.
  3. For people selling nuts you have harvested, you can either bring nuts to our facility by appointment or we can arrange pick-up on-site while crews are in your area. We will perform QA and pay you $2.50/lb for the dry weight of food-quality nuts without mold, fungus, or bugs.
  4. That’s it!

*Due to logistical limitations, we may only be able to purchase from people in specific areas during limited time windows.

Minimum buy size is 500 lbs.