Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Magical Fruit

I have the bean problem figured out.

If you have been following the blog you know that I am participating in Urban Hennery's Dark Days Challenge (see the cute logo in the upper right corner?) and that I have plenty of meat, dairy and a fair amount of vegetables to get me through my season of locally sourced meals. You may also remember that I am on the look out for local grains and legumes, as all I have in that category is a jar of hutterite soup beans we grew in a test plot this year.

Our Hutterite Soup Beans. This is about half of what we harvested from our 15 foot
plot. The rest are soaking as I type this, getting ready to be made into soup.

Enter an old farming friend, Marty Heller, who's been trying his hand at heirloom bean growing in Traverse City.

I know, I know, at 380 miles away Traverse City is not exactly local to Ontonagon, but, for several reasons, I think that these beans fit into the spirit of the challenge. To start with, the challenge is pretty flexible and past participants have considered their whole state to be local to them, so I'm not really doing anything against a rule, though, overall, my goal is food grown within 150 miles of my home. Next, our trip to get the beans was a 40 mile detour along our Thanksgiving travel route, and the grower was an old friend of ours. So, while the beans grew 380 miles from our home, they grew only 40 miles from our lives (if that makes any sense). Finally, Marty grew the beans on land he rented from the Leelanau Conservancy. The Conservancy wants the land, part of the DeYoung Farm, to be maintained as active agricultural land. They hope to start a farmer in residency program to allow individuals who have experience farming (training, internships, and the like) a place to learn about farm management and, hopefully, build some capital so that they can start their own farms. It would be a sort of farm incubator program.

Farm incubator programs are an awesome local food promoting idea that I wanted to encourage in my tiny way by mentioning the Leelanau Land Conservancy's goal in the blog. If any of you know of similar programs I would love to hear about them.

Marty, who grew up in a farming family and has been involved in the operation of two CSAs, told us a little about his experience growing beans on the Conservancy's land. He grew over fifteen varieties on about two acres, didn't have the opportunity for as much weed control as he would have liked (this is pretty much a given for chemical free farmers), hand pulled the plants at harvest time, and threshed the beans using a 1940's Allis Chalmers All Crop 60 Combine. We were able to see much of the yield when we visited. He was storing them in burlap sacks in his garage that he allowed me to paw through so I could select my beans. I didn't think to ask what his overall yield was, though we did have a nice talk about beans, weed pressure, and the variable success we have each had growing dry beans under different conditions.

Marty's baby bean plants at the DeYoung Farm.
Photo courtesy of Marty Heller.

For example, our experience at Wintergreen Farm has taught us that those hutterite soup beans I mentioned love black plastic mulch and king of the early beans hate being planted in our fields, no matter what we do for them. Marty found similar discrepancies with the varieties he grew. I guess that means bean farming, like all farming, is an endlessly interesting process of trial and error.

Even with weed pressure, Marty ended up with a spectacular bean harvest. Enough for a 13 variety bean tasting event that I very much wish I could have been a part of. I guess I'll have to be content cooking and tasting the six pounds of beans we bought from him and the hutterites we grew.

Three of the four varieties I got from Marty.
From left to right these are Low's Champion, Coco Rubico, and Peregion.
Photos courtesy of Marty Heller.

It's going to be a magical winter...


  1. awesome story, Andrea! Way to spread the love!

  2. glad to see another Michigander participating in Dark Days. Can't wait to read more about you!