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The Once and Future Bean

Updated: Feb 11, 2019

Last year our farmer Chuck had to spend some time cleaning out his parents’ house in West Virginia after his mother died and his father moved into assisted living. Among the usual knick-knacks and heirlooms you’d expect to find in a long lived-in house, he found seeds—not a surprise, as Chuck’s family has been farming for generations. But one packet of those seeds had been saved not by his parents, but by his grandfather: a little packet of dried bean seeds that had spent decades waiting to be brought back to life.

Seeds are living organisms, and they lose vitality after a year or so. That’s one reason most seed companies recommend starting every season fresh with their latest offerings. So there was no telling whether the seeds that Chuck found, which had been squirreled away in a hot garage for god knows how many years, would germinate, much less bear fruit. But he planted them anyway, and what do you know: beans galore.

So growing among our plants upstate are beans whose particular mix of genetic material hasn’t been expressed in the flesh in decades. They’ve been brought from another life, another world, to live again in a place hundreds of miles from the field where Chuck’s grandfather harvested them. Seeds are a kind of time machine, a warp of reality, a way of stitching together remote parts of the world and distant spans of time. Those generic looking packets in wire racks at the hardware store are envelopes of tiny little ordinary miracles waiting to be born. 

Another good reason not to leave their fate in the hands of chemical monopolies but rather in the custody of people who care about these things, who have personal connections to them

Food is personal, as we know—recipes handed down across generations link children with their grandparents, boxes of index cards bearing the stains of buttery thumbs and the annotations of successive custodians of the memory. Seeds can do the same thing—keeping not only a family of plants alive from generation to generation but keeping a family connected over time and distance 

Those beans, along with bushels more from other plants, will be coming down to us in a week or two—all the weird muggy weather and heavy rain we’ve been having have helped nudge our sluggish garden into overdrive. Everything is green and lush now. Get ready to revel in it.