The Nevada single-leaf pinion pine (pinus monophylla) produces a nut. If you’ve ever made pesto you will recall that most recipes call for the use of pine nuts. If you’ve ever gone to a grocery store to buy pine nuts you soon discover that they are expensive. Retail they sell for near thirty dollars a pound.
Pinion and juniper grow together. The trees back in the ‘50’s were considered a nuisance. They removed them by hooking a stout anchor chain between two dozers and then our barbaric forefathers cleared the land. The land was now more suited to grazing cattle. Ranchers somehow overlooked the fact that beef earned them peanuts compared to what a crop of pinion nuts could bring.
Now the Nevada single-leaf pinion nut is not just some run of the mill pine nut. It is in the opinion of those who are supposed to know regarded to be one of nature’s most delicious prizes. Nevada pinion nuts are nature’s highest achievement.
If those old cowboys are anything like me they probably sat on their saddles looking out over their herd watching the sunset and the whole time they didn’t realize that they were looking right at the biggest cash crop growing in the Great Basin of the American west.
Biologists put pencil to paper and the value of the pine nuts in Nevada are an estimated 100 million dollars per year. That’s not a gold mine that’s a renewable resource. The eye popping economic value of this crop is a revelation. Add the ecological, spiritual and cultural significance of this prized nut and the wealth of this harvest boggles the human mind.
Before we knew what the heck we had we’d already removed as much as 90% of the original old growth pinion forests. Some folk are thinking might be another kind of nut if we don’t get our heads on straight and put new trees back in where the old ones once grew.
What’s this have to do with the price of tea in China? Exactly what I thought you’d be thinking too. What it means is that there exists a spectacular means to help the people right in Nevada to become self sufficient, care for the land, provide a valuable product to the world, and earn a wage that can help support a worker, a family, a community, a state and ultimately the whole nation.
We built the Bonneville Dam and it is as if nobody gave it a second thought as to what might happen to the salmon. Until taxol was discovered to be of use fighting cancer the Pacific Yew tree was a garbage tree of minimal value and of limited practical uses.
My next novel is set in Nevada. It is a comedy. I’m learning about pine nuts. I’m finding out about geothermal water heated greenhouses, Basque sheepherding, turquoise mining and land speed world records. I’m busy trying to make things up (plotting the novel) and it turns out truth as always is stranger than fiction.