Father Ray Goetz loves black walnuts. He enjoys walnuts in candy or baked in confections. He even puts them on his oatmeal.
As chaplain for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, Father Ray literally lives among the walnuts in a house that abuts the Mount park. Maple Mount is home to dozens of walnut trees, which spend October and November dropping their fruit.
The walnuts on the ground encased in an outer coating the size of tennis balls tend to create problems for the mowing blades of the maintenance staff, and they can be dangerous if they become a projectile from a mower, Father Ray said. Last fall he decided to start picking up the walnuts so they could be utilized by the Sisters at the Mount.
This fall he continued his daily ritual, enlisting help from two Vietnamese sisters who live at Maple Mount. Harold Murphy, brother-in-law of farm manager Mark Blandford, told Father Ray that Mennonites in Elkton, Ky., buy walnuts. He offered his truck to haul the walnuts there.
During October, additional Vietnamese sisters studying at Brescia University came to help and the team converged on the park, “moving east,” Father Ray said.
Father Ray said when he and the sisters were finished, they gathered 18 feed sacks holding 50-70 pounds of walnuts; 15 five-gallon buckets; and several 13-gallon garbage bags filled half-way so they wouldn’t burst. Father Ray estimates that with the outer shells included, they likely brought 1,000 pounds to Elkton.
The Mennonite community contracts with a company that sells walnuts. There is a facility there that shelled the nuts, with growers receiving 18 cents per pound. When all the walnuts were shelled, it resulted in 587 pounds of edible nuts. The trip netted $107, which Father Ray turned over to the Sisters.
Father Ray still spends at least an hour each day collecting the walnuts with a device called a nut roller. A chopper that connects to a drill cracks the shells, but it still takes a long time to get enough nuts to eat.
He realizes collecting nuts is not the most cost-effective way to earn money for the Sisters – the trip to Elkton is about 90 minutes each way. But he enjoys the daily exercise – and therapy – among the fall beauty of Maple Mount.
“Black walnuts are wonderful tasting, but they are a lot of work,” he said. “Hopefully we can find people who want them next year.”