Marcia Haims ofAltoPassthought her husband was “nuts.”

Today, theSoutheastMissouriStateUniversityspeech pathologist professor is immersed in baking: pumpkin hazelnut bread, zucchini hazelnut bread, hazelnut muffins, anything with hazelnuts.

Her husband, Lloyd Haims, is semi-retired, having left the political arena as a consultant for presidential candidates as well as state offices for his one-acre plot of land and flower tree garden.

He concedes he was buying a lot of trees from the Arbor Day Foundation, the self-proclaimed largest nonprofit organization dedicated to planting trees. The purchases, he theorizes, caught the foundation’s attention, resulting in an invitation in 2005 to participate in national research on developing a hybrid hazelnut.

“I get this letter saying would you be willing to help us with this hazelnut research project,” Haims said. “They want to know if we can create a disease resistant (hazelnut).”

The project is led by researchers at the foundation,OregonStateUniversity,RutgersUniversityand theUniversityofNebraskaand was started in 1996 after scientists discovered someU.S.hazelnut crops were threatened by disease about 10 years earlier.

They also hope to develop a hybrid that can thrive in a variety of climates to eventually expand crops across much of theUnited StatesandCanada, the foundation said. Currently, theUnited Statesaccounts for 5 percent of the world’s hazelnut harvest, and 99 percent of those crops are in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Haims said his 23 bushes are thriving, some nearly 17-feet tall producing anywhere from a few hundred nuts to several thousand each year. He started with three bushes barely a foot high when he planted them and plans to add seven more in 2013. Once harvested, the nuts are sent to the foundation’s farm where they are cross-bred with other nuts.

Haims is now working with others in the area to build educational and nutritional components into the project. Some landowners have offered him space for hazelnut bushes, and he is currently in talks with one private landowner over a possible donation of 10 acres. He has also been in contact with Southern Illinois University inCarbondale, he said.

Much of that expansion, however, will depend on whether the hybrid consortium can get any closer to its goal of producing a disease and climate resistant nut, he explained. For his efforts, the Arbor Day Foundation featured Haims in its January-February newsletter.

“They came up to me and offered it to me, they were so inspired by what I was doing,” he said of the landowners.

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