Beans originated in Central and South America and began to be cultivated in Mexico over 2,000 years ago. In North America today, there are over 4,000 different kinds of beans. All beans appear to originally have been climbing beans, but over the centuries, low growing plants were selected that have become our modern day dwarf varieties. Today almost all commercially grown beans are dwarf because of the ease of mechanical harvesting. The Trust’s focus, however, is on the higher producing climbing varieties with only a few dwarf varieties grown. Several of the Trust’s climbing varieties are shade-tolerant and have been traditionally grown (in North America) amongst corn crops, where they could use the corn stalks to climb up. Beans grown in this way have been a wonderful protein source; rich in minerals and a superb complement to corn in the diet.
Beans belong to the legume family, and as such can fix nitrogen in the soil, which is one of the most important ingredients for plant growth; they also contain soluble fibre which is beneficial in controlling cholesterol and diabetes. Beans are what nutritionists call a “slow release food”, which is one that is slowly digested and absorbed which is a plus for people with insulin resistance.
The Trust’s experience with researching other foods indicates that traditional varieties of beans will contain higher levels of beneficial health compounds than modern, commercially bred cultivars. Ultimately what we eat is inextricably connected with our health and knowing this, our prime focus is on finding the very best varieties that we can, for the present and future health of all people. Secondly the changing climate conditions globally are being felt with unpredictable and extreme weather occurrences here. For our own food security we need to be self-reliant and have available varieties that we know grow well in different climatic conditions. The Hopi Indian varieties that the Trust has obtained are one example of beans that can tolerate low rainfall, semi-desert conditions, and have thrived for centuries under their Native American stewardship.
Much of what we seek to enable us to sustain future generations has been known and practiced by traditional cultures for millennia. Our task is to rediscover that past knowledge to give us the foundation that we need to move forward into our future.