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Are “free-range trees” a thing now?

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Photo: Stocksy/Bisual Studios

Milkadamia is the kind of thing that’s likely to catch your eye in the grocery store (once you’re done ogling new slashed prices on diet staples). It’s an alt-milk made with macadamia nuts, and it bills itself as being free of dairy, soy, GMOs, and gluten, in addition to being sustainably farmed. (It’s also easy on the eyes, with an artisanal-style illustration on the carton.)

Quartz reports that the Chicago-based company’s products are labeled as being made from “free-range trees,” which—huh? Do we need to start worrying about inhumane farming conditions for trees?

Do we need to start worrying about inhumane farming conditions for trees?

The answer is a mixed bag (of nuts). Milkadamia CEO Jim Richards told Quartz that the free-range tree label is a bit of shade thrown at almond milk producers in California. Those farmers rely on water from aquifers for their trees, which depletes a natural resource. “When you take water out of an underground aquifer, it will never fill up again,” Richards said. “It’s a national treasure, it shouldn’t be used like that.”

Meanwhile, Milkadamia’s nuts are grown in eastern Australia, where, according to a blog post from Milkadamia, the macadamia trees are “watered by rainfall alone.” They’re “trees supporting life, not trees on life support.”

So while the idea of a “free-range tree” toes the absurdity line, the notion does get to the complex issues surrounding food production and sustainability that you may be already wondering how to best address in your life. Still, don’t expect an announcement from the USDA that trees can be classified as free-range any time soon.

Want to try making your own alt-milk? Here’s how to make your own macadamia nut milk and cashew nut milk.