Dateline: 11 February 2006
And it saddens me to see so many of the old wood barns around here fall into disrepair and ruin. In the past 30 years that I’ve lived in these parts, I’ve seen dozens of once-nice old barns disappear from the landscape. I can drive down the country roads around my house and remember the barns that were once there. I suspect it is the same story in any agricultural area of the country. I point out where the barns used to be to my boys. I think I have become something of an old-timer, especially to them. But I digress (old-timers do that). This story is about beans.
Two years ago, my homesteading friend, Ken, gave me a few handfuls of red kidney beans that he had harvested from his garden. I planted some of the beans in my garden. I think it was a couple of 50 ft. rows.
The beans grew well and in the fall, when the pods were dry, I pulled the entire plants, tied them together in bundles with baling twine, and hung them from the ceiling of my workshop (which is the closest thing I have to a barn).
The bunches hung there most of the winter. Then, one day, I took some time to pull the dry, blackened pods off the plants. I threw them into some feed sacks and hung the sacks from the ceiling.
More months passed before I decided to separate the dry beans from the pods. I did this by laying the sacks on my sturdy work bench and beating them with a baseball bat. The pounding broke the pods open, releasing the beans. But it did not damage the beans.
After working each sack over with the bat, I pulled out the dry, bean-less pods, and tossed them into my chicken yard. (The chickens are not interested in dried bean pods but their yard serves double duty as a compost pile. ) In the bottom of each sack were the shelled beans and a lot of chaff. I dumped all the beans & chaff into a cardboard box and took it outside on a windy day to winnow the chaff.
To winnow off the chaff, I simply scooped the beans out and poured them down into another box from a couple feet above. Most of the chaff blew off to the side while the heavy beans dropped straight into the box. Winnowing like this is easy and fun to do.
Those winnowed beans sat in my shop for several more months. Finally, three evenings ago, almost 1-1/2 years since they were harvested, I brought the beans into my kitchen for final separating.
With a winter storm blowing outside, my whole family gathered around the kitchen table to sort beans. I scooped them onto the bare table and each person began to inspect and sort. All less-than-perfect specimens, small stones, and remaining chaff were pushed into a reject pile and the good beans were selected out.
My whole family was working together with some bluegrass music playing in the background. I took the opportunity to explain to my three sons that what we were doing was what families did in the old days, before the industrial revolution so radically changed the way families lived. I told them that, prior to the industrial revolution, whole families worked together to provide for the needs of the family. I explained that this is called the family economy.
I told them that when the whole family is producing in this way—when they work together to provide for their needs, it makes the family stronger.
I told my boys that the typical Modern family does not work together to provide for its needs. For example, I asked them if they knew any other family that sat around the kitchen table sorting out dry kidney beans?
Of course I gave other examples, and I spoke on the subject longer than I probably should have (I can get carried away with such things). They listened to me politely as they sorted away.
After a half hour of work, we had sorted half the beans. It amounted to about eight pounds. We put the beautiful red beans into canning jars.
The next night we gathered again around the table, after dinner, to sort out the rest of the beans. Seeing another opportunity to teach my boys some profound truth, I jokingly said:
“Hey guys, have I ever told you about how the industrial revolution radically changed the structure of the family and how important it is that families today reestablish a family economy by working together to provide for the needs of the family?”
There was a collective moan from the bean sorters and my youngest, James, said, “Yes, we’ve heard all about that Dad.” And my middle son, Robert, said, “And I understand it too.”
I knew that this night’s “lesson from dad” needed to be a little lighter— a little shorter. So, closely examining the legumes in front of me, I said the first wise thing that came to my mind...
“Boys, I want you to know that every one of these beans is a blessing! That’s a word of wisdom from your Pa, boys. Don’t ever forget it. Every bean’s a blessing!."
I knew this little comment on my part was well-received because it brought some laughter. So I kept going.
“And someday when I’m dead and gone, I want you boys to remember what I said here tonight; Every Bean’s a Blessing! I want you to pass this on to your sons one day. Every bean's a blessing!”
And then, not being able to resist the opportunity, I proceeded to tell my boys that every bean and every bit of food the Lord provides really is a blessing. And I told them that the family we had was a blessing from the Lord. And I told them that someday I and their mom really would be dead and gone and that they would probably be grown up with families of their own, but that they would still be brothers for life, and brothers need to be a blessing to each other.
I didn’t overdo it. There was a lot of give and take in the conversation. When it was all said and done, we had a good time sorting beans around the kitchen table. Profound truths were discussed, important values were communicated, and the beans are in the pantry. But that’s not the end of the story.
Last night, Marlene made a spicy rice and bean dish for dinner. It was a special dinner because it tasted good and it was made with our beans, the ones I had grown, the ones we had all sorted together. And I couldn’t help but exclaim: “Every bean’s a blessing, boys!”
Dry beans are so easy to grow and harvest. They keep well for years. They are incredibly nutruitious. And when you need more, you just select out some of the nicest looking ones and plant them in the ground. That’s what I’ll be doing this year. If you have never grown beans for dying, I encourage you to do so.