That is, IF you are saving seed! Yvonne Scott here, from Wolfe County Grow Appalachia, and I had the privilege of spending time with the amazing Bill Best this weekend at the Red River Gorge annual Living Archaeology event on Sept. 19th. Well, what I didn’t know about the history of beans would fill a library. But I was talking to the man esteemed as the best collector of heirloom beans and their histories in the region. I just stood back and listened while his hands brushed across the dried pods he brought to educate us about the beauty, nutrition and history of the Phaseolus vulgaris or common bean.
Since I arrived in Kentucky last November, I heard from folks in answer to my questions about local heirlooms, that Best was the reason so many of our Appalachian seeds are still around. His efforts to collect, restore and re-supply our region with so many of the tasty, dependable varieties of beans which nourished our ancestors and the many generations of Native inhabitants for thousands of years is an epic tale. David of the native seeds versus the Goliath of genetically modified seeds. In speaking with Best on Saturday, I got some good news. Bill thinks we’re winning. And with his energy and enthusiasm, I believe he may be right!
On Saturday, October 3, Best hosts his annual seed exchange event at his farm outside Berea. I plan to be there and hope some of my Grow Appalachia folks will be as well. This is an opportunity to learn more about regional varieties of tomatoes, gourds, corn, as well as beans and meet the bean guru himself.
Did you know that the common bean we all love was domesticated in the Peruvian Andes around 4400 years ago and in Mesoamerica about 2400 years ago? Archaeologists aren’t certain of the exact time beans came to Kentucky but they do know that domesticated beans were showing up in Fort Ancient sites in central and northern Kentucky area by late AD1200s. Sites in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge contain some of the earliest and best-preserved evidence of plant domestication of beans.
I was even more smitten reading the dedication to his mother, who started him down this path. Margaret Sanford Best traded seeds for many years with family members from Haywood County, North Carolina. You see, I live next door in Jackson County, North Carolina. This summer, on my home garden, a friend tended some of the Cliffie Boyd Strong Creasy Beans that Grow Appalachia wants to replenish. It wasn’t a bumper crop but we’ve got a dozen or so pods drying and more to come. I feel like Mrs. Best was very happy to see the circle coming around. I intend to share these seeds with folks in our southern Appalachian region.
Our final class for Wolfe County Grow Appalachia is this Thursday, Sept. 24 from 6-8 where we’ll discuss seed saving and heirlooms. I’m excited to share Best’s information with them and I hope it ignites a passion for this critical component of gardening and sustainability. At the very least I hope our group leaves with a greater pride in their ancestors knowledge and frugality as well as a deeper appreciation for the indigenous people who developed and passed on to all of us, one of Mother Nature’s most nutritious foods: the bean.
The Bill Best Seed Exchange is Saturday, Oct. 3 from 9 till ‘the last person leaves’ according to Best. His farm is at 1033 Pilot Knob Cemetery Road, Berea, Kentucky. See you there!