Why You Should Stop Buying Nuts at the Grocery Store

updated Nov 11, 2020
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Every fall I turn into a squirrel. Not, you know, furry or anything, but obsessed with nuts. As soon as the weather turns, I start craving them with a singular intensity. I get this tremendous urge to stockpile copious amounts (so I never run out!) and bookmark the nuttiest recipes I can find. This “nutty” passion started when I learned the magic of buying nuts in season.

Once you taste a super-fresh, just-harvested nut, maybe even an heirloom variety, you’ll be spoiled for anything you’ll find in the supermarket. (The squirrels know this.) Luckily for me, I don’t have to flit through yards looking for nut trees to pilfer. I don’t even have to go find a farm stand. Instead I can just hop online because there are tons of small farms across the country (with online stores) happy to sell fresh, delicious nuts directly to consumers. 

Allow me to explain why this strategy is a winning one.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

1. You shift your dollars directly to small, independent food producers.

Many nut orchards have been in families for generations. Check out the “about us” page on most of the farms’ websites (see below) and you’ll read all about kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids proud to be carrying on their family’s legacy. By selling direct to consumers, these farms can keep their prices competitive with supermarkets, sometimes even cheaper, without losing all their profits to middlemen.

Buying nuts directly from farms can be more expensive than some alternatives. However, unless you’re comparing prices to Costco (which no one can beat), the difference isn’t all that much. For example, organic raw almonds at my local grocer cost $10.99 for 7.5 ounces; organic raw almonds from Heron Fox Farms in California cost $15.50 for 16 ounces (and I’m guaranteed to get the 2020 harvest). Compare that to the non-organic big-name brand of almonds at Safeway, which costs $12 per pound. Only Costco ($13.99 for 3 pounds of non-organic) and Trader Joe’s ($7.99 per pound for organic) have a true bargain.

2. You’ll actually be able to taste the freshness.

Buying directly from farms, especially in the fall, means you can snag a pound of nuts that was harvested just weeks before (instead of years). The flavor will be far superior to older nuts — usually naturally sweeter and less tannic, especially when it comes to walnuts. And because phytonutrients fade over time, fresh nuts contain more of the antioxidants we need.

3. Small farms are more transparent.

Take a look at that bag of nuts you bought at the supermarket. You likely won’t know who grew them, let alone how they were grown and processed, or when they were harvested. Most smaller nut producers are proud to let their customers know the efforts they take in tending their land, supporting their local ecosystem, and producing a high-quality product.

4. You get to explore different nut varieties.

Did you know there are more than 500 varieties of pecans? Or that there are 37 varieties of walnuts grown in California alone? (Now you do!) Many small farms grow several varieties of nuts, and you can explore each one and order your favorite.

5. Supporting small farms is better for the environment.

Many of these small farmers are deeply committed to sustainable agricultural practices. Plus, small farms add diversity to the agricultural landscape and provide important habitats for animals and insects.

4 Small Producers Who Are Currently Taking Orders for the 2020 Harvest

Corky’s Nuts

Woman-owned and Black-owned, Corky’s is named after the co-owner’s father who started the family farm in California’s Capay Valley. The husband-and-wife team grow two kinds of organic walnuts, which are so sweet you’ll never want to buy bitter walnuts from the supermarket again. Corky’s is taking preorders now for the 2020 harvest — hurry, though, because they always sell out. They also offer walnut butter and walnut oil.

More info: Corky’s Nuts

Freddy Guys Hazelnuts

This multi-generational family farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley stands out for offering some of the freshest, most flavorful hazelnuts possible. Do what the chefs do and order your batch roasted. Freddy Guys roasts twice a week so you’re guaranteed the best-tasting nuts with a fabulous crunch, and they’ll be on your doorstep one to three days after roasting. 

More info: Freddy Guys Hazelnuts

Ellis Bros. Pecans

This multi-generational family farm in the heart of Georgia grows my, hands-down, favorite nut: the Elliot Pecan. Not a lot of farms grow this variety, so if you can get some before they sell out, do it. They’re small and plump and taste like they were dipped in maple syrup.

More info: Ellis Bros. Pecans

Heron Fox Farm

A fourth-generation family farm in Chico, California, Heron Fox Farm prides itself on growing several varieties of organic almonds — Nonpareil, Sonora, and Butte — that aren’t pasteurized in any way, so they’re sproutable.

More info: Heron Fox Farm

Have you ever purchased fresh nuts from a farm?