Voices: Why do you grow tepary beans?

We asked gardeners: Why did you grow brown tepary beans?

September 9, 2016

Issue 20: September/October 2016Voices


Presented by the Seed Library of the Pima County Public Library, One Seed is a community-wide effort bringing people together through the celebration and preservation of the food crops of our desert home. It’s much like ONEBOOKAZ, but instead of reading the same book, folks are encouraged to plant and grow the same variety of regionally significant seeds. For our inaugural One Seed, we selected the brown tepary bean, which has been grown by native peoples of the Southwest for thousands of years. Drought tolerant, heat loving, easy to grow, self-pollinating, and delicious, it’s the perfect crop to honor and learn about our rich agricultural roots.

Did you grow brown tepary beans this year? If so, at harvest time set a small amount of your brown tepary beans aside and bring them to any one of the many drop-off spots around town (including any PCPL branch) to be combined with the harvests of others. The beauty of One Seed is not only in planting and growing but also conserving for future generations.

I grow tepary beans because they are matched to where I live. They are easy. I have spent years growing more exotic things, and it is so much work and costs so much money to try to adjust the environment to meet their needs. Growing plants adapted to our area is much more rewarding and way less stressful. An added benefit is that our tortoises like to eat the tepary bean leaves.By the way, this community garden is the garden that was created after Gabby Giffords was shot. She used to live across the street from the garden and still visits the garden frequently. One of the plots has been permanently set aside in memory of the people who were killed that day. The plot was made with compost from all of the flowers that were left at the memorial at the hospital for the victims. The plot was originally planted with the living plants and flowers that were left at the memorial.

When it’s too hot and humid to grow anything else, I grow tepary beans. This prehistoric food crop is the fastest growing bean in the West. It is very nutritious, with lots of fiber, protein, calcium, and iron, plus it is aesthetically pleasing and specific to our hot and dry region. The seed (bean) pods quickly mature to offer a bounty of beans to eat, save, and share.

Being new to Tucson and being a chef, I thought the tepary bean project would be a good way for me to start learning about local and indigenous products literally from the ground up. Also, our team of gardeners at the Sunrise Drive Community Garden thought the harvest would be an interesting project for students at the Sunrise Drive Elementary School, which is adjacent to the garden. They can harvest the plants and then thrash the pods to release the beans. If it works out, I would love to help the students learn to prepare a recipe or two with the harvest.

I chose to grow tepary bean seeds after reading the flier for One Seed Pima County at the main library seed-sharing kiosk. As an avid gardener I was looking for something different to grow during the monsoon season. I typically follow the Community Food Bank’s planting guide, which lists information about vegetables and fruits to grow during each season in Tucson. I have never grown tepary beans. I usually grow spinach, a variety of leafy greens, and peppers. The local connection between tepary beans, Native Americans, and the Sonoran Desert piqued my interest.

The long, rich history of native people growing, cultivating, and eating and storing tepary beans for centuries, tied in with UNESCO’s designation as a City of Gastronomy, inspired me to try growing them in our backyard garden.

Our son, James, has become quite interested in growing native foods since learning about different edible plants in his ethnobotany course at Sky Islands High School. Since we recently started a home garden, we thought this would be a good opportunity to try growing some ourselves. The tepary bean seeds made available through the Seed Library provided the perfect occasion for us to try our hand at growing some beans to eat, as well as giving back to the community so others can have the chance to grow these edibles as well. We can’t wait for our harvest!

I miss gardening. As it became more difficult for me to garden, my daughter suggested a raised bed garden would be a great way for me to get back to gardening. We checked out free seed packets of tepary beans from the Pima County Seed Library for One Seed Pima County.

Manuel Natividad

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