Foraging! What is that? It is the act of searching for food and provisions. This is how Ernie Grimo got his start in ‘nuts’, says his daughter Linda Grimo. An unusual act you might say for a young person growing up in Niagara Falls. Maybe not so unusual! I bet if you looked in garages and backyards everywhere you will find boxes and crates filled with black walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts; maybe in the trunk of cars or in pockets of jackets hanging in closets. Why is it that nuts are so appealing? They are shiny and textured and free for the picking on streets and in forests and on walks in the fall. What a great thing that Ernie Grimo was a forager. For that is how Grimo Nuts of Niagara on the Lake got their start. “It was a fascination for edible landscaping, as my Dad and his friends wandered all over Niagara Falls. He would bring them home and my Grandmother would use them in her meals,” shares Linda. “When my Mom and Dad got married they had a city lot in Niagara Falls and my Dad filled it with nut trees. By the time he decided we needed a bigger place to live and plant his trees, we had over one hundred trees surrounding our house.”
The move to Niagara on the Lake on the eleven acres, didn’t start out as a nut farm, it was a gradual evolution. There were no trees on the property, no overgrowth, so there was nothing to cut down. The family started with peaches and vegetables and some of the trees that he brought with him from the city. All the while Mr. Grimo was still a full time teacher. As he moved into retirement the internet was beginning to play a huge role in everyday life. He realized that his ‘Nut idea” could achieve the potential to be a real opportunity.
Linda Grimo, in 1999 was teaching in Arizona when her first child was born. She had 9 weeks to stay home with him and she didn’t want to go back to work. The option was to come home to the farm. ‘It was a perfect time for a career change,” she says. Together they manage Grimo Nut Nursery.
How did they become so viable? Through research, advice from other growers, going to meetings, allowing the University of Guelph to come and do some studies, forming great partnerships that is how. Mr. Grimo has not missed one meeting of the North American Nut Growers Association.
Early on in the orchard, few nut trees were available and little was known about the potential for nut crops in Ontario, Ernie decided to set up test orchards to evaluate the best nut trees that would grow in the Niagara region. Getting help from experienced growers and local pioneers, he was able to get grafted cultivars and seedling sources from across North America as well as the commercial nut growing regions from around the world. These trees are grown and tested for their individual nut quality. Each tree is evaluated on several factors including flavour, productivity, commercial viability, cracking ability, and disease resistance. The trees that prove to be outstanding are then grafted and sold through the nursery. These orchards also serve as the seed source for the nursery business. As the business grew, and the trees matured Ernie found that he had surplus nut crops. They began selling the nuts from the farm to those interested in eating fresh locally grown nuts. Today, the nuts and trees are available at the farm gate or can be ordered on their website.
In the spring, Ernie, Linda and their employee Johnie, “who really cares for our family,” says Linda, are very busy. They dig the nursery rows, organize the seeds, graft, get orders ready, dig out the nursery stock, and ship out about 20,000 trees. The trees are selected from their variety of chestnut, walnut, heartnut, black walnut, butternut, pecan, hickory, hazelnut, and some persimmon, figs and paw paws. In the summer caring for the trees, managing the orchards and watching for blight keeps them busy. The fall brings the harvest time and taking some of the plants indoors to the greenhouses; and always visiting with customers who have heard about the freshness of their nuts. People locally, from far away and neighbouring bakeries want the finest of nuts for their table. Winter brings a bit of a rest. “A holiday is nice,” says Linda, “I like to go on road trips with my kids, explore other places, read and garden in the summer. “Last year (2012) I was kept very busy cracking and sorting Black Walnuts. Fifteen hundred bushels were brought to me by other ‘nut foragers”. So I cracked all winter long.”
Who buys the trees? “Commercial growers, hobbyists, people who like edible landscaping, grandparents who are planting for their grandchildren,” says Linda. “Our trees will live for fifty to one hundred years.
From one hundred trees to twenty thousand sold per year, are there any more challenges? In the future Grimo Nut Nursery will continue to grow with the Local Food aspect, partner with other growers, be part of the hazelnut growth in Ontario and meet many new people.
Anyone can drop in to see them at 979 Lakeshore RD, R.R. 3,
Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario or give them a call at 1-905-YEH-NUT. Visit their website at www.grimonut.com. You can also place an order for nuts, jam and fruits through the Niagara Local Food Co-Op www.niagaralocalfoodcoop.ca. You may bump into Linda doing some volunteering there or at the Niagara North Federation of Agriculture meetings as she serves as one of their directors.
Stop in at the farm, buy some nuts and see the ‘cool’ way they harvest the nuts from the ground. Kind of like vacuuming but fun!
Warm Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Heartnut Salad
1 cup heartnuts, finely chopped
4 oz soft goat cheese
Red leaf lettuce
Red onion, sliced thinly
8-12 Shiitake mushrooms, remove stems, slice thinly
3 oz canola oil
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
Toast 1 cup heartnuts at 350 for 2-3 minutes. Remove as many skins as practical, then finely chop the nut meats.
Divide the goat cheese into 4, one ounce pieces. Shape them with your fingers to resemble little cheese logs. Roll in the chopped nuts to coat and set aside at room temperature, allowing the cheese to warm and soften.
Arrange washed red leaf lettuce on 4 plates or a platter. Add a few thin slices of red onion.
Meanwhile, stem the mushrooms and discard. Slice the tops thinly. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the canola oil and sauté the mushrooms lightly. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove the pan from the heat and lift out with a slotted spoon and arrange over the red leaf lettuce.
Add ¼ cup Balsamic vinegar to the hot frying pan, then drizzle the warm oil and vinegar over the lettuce and mushrooms. Add the goat cheese to the plates and serve. If the goat cheese is not warm, heat in microwave for 10 seconds. Serve immediately.