The Bill BEST of Heirloom Seeds

In between snowfalls on Saturday, March 9th participants gathered at the Cowan Community Center to learn more about the benefits of heirloom seeds. Over thirty participants met early and enjoyed an oatmeal bar and exchanged gardening ideas as we awaited the arrival of Bill Best of Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center from Berea, Kentucky. Participants had been invited to bring their own heirloom seeds if they had them for a “show and tell.” We know and appreciate the value of a families heirloom seed and wanted no one to feel pressure to give away their seeds, but share their stories. A few of our participants were already saving their seeds and had stories to share with Bill Best. One of our participants, Terry and Carol Rayburn were able to share a variety of Hasting bean that he did not have. As these experienced gardeners studied their seeds for markings, it reminds one of children and their prized marbles searching for a shiny new one. This particular variety had a little pink eye that his did not, we would like to credit this particular bean to Helen and Ralph York, long gone from Cowan Creek and passed away, but the quality seeds they cared for year after year remain and produce beans for the tables of second and third generation families. Bill not only shared the nutritional values of his heirloom seeds as opposed to what we most often have access to, but their stories as well. We were all pleased to learn that the “Big John” bean is known to have originated in Letcher County.

Grow Appalachia Participants Swappin' and Shoppin' for Heirloom Seeds

Grow Appalachia Participants Swappin’ and Shoppin’ for Heirloom Seeds

Our participants were able to choose from a variety of bean seeds that Bill and his grandson brought to share with the group. The bean seeds our participants were able to choose from included the Saylor Family, Minnie Butterbean, Jane Herald, Gallahar, Jack Kelly Butterbean, McCaine Greasy and the Big John. “If only seeds could talk.”

Heirloom Bean Seeds

Heirloom Bean Seeds

Participants each got to choose 3 varieties with the understanding seeds will come back at the end of the growing season to share with others. We are hopeful that these seeds will multiply and be shared with many other gardens in Letcher County.
We are excited to see Bill Best’s new book, Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste and one of our participants will receive a signed copy of his copy as a door prize for our event and a couple will be available for participants to borrow and share.   Thank you Bill for making the journey to Cowan to share your seeds and knowledge.

Bill Best w/his Grandson

Bill Best w/his Grandson

As always, special thanks to Grow Appalachia for allowing this gathering to take place and afford the opportunity for our participants to meet such a humble and experienced gardener and take seeds to use in their own gardens.


  1. Melessia C. Hayes

    I was directed your way by Polly Lakes. I have lost seed for the cranberry bean and I was hoping you had them or could send me in a direction. We loved them!!! I still have some little hickory greasy beans if anyone is interested. I keep them in the freezer.

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