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The Importance of the Perennial Bean at This Juncture in Time

November 5, 2021

Everyday is a reminder to me that more has to be done to improve the worlds health and well being.  A little bit of news in the morning is enough. There are so many avenues to take. What to do?  I have noticed a great surge in new protein crops over the last few years. All of them to me are not what I would call healthy sounding.  Is this one possibility to help improve the benefits of wild crop plants or maybe an old crop brought to light again?  One avenue I started working on about a decade ago was perennial beans. I had heard about a species bean in North America that was used prior to the introduction of the annual beans from Central America. I received seed of it by a collector and began a small trellis of it. When  I first started growing it, I thought more of it as a horticultural oddity than something with practical use. But when the yields started doubling ever year and the roots passed the 7th year, I had the thought, ” How can I harness that power?”  I will treat this bean like a giant twining tree. Even today with the hybrids and selections I have found it seems that this real life Jack and beanstalk story is still in its infancy.  The question remains: will this  improve the worlds health and well being?  How much time will it take?  I think it is possible but there are the pitfalls of a rather twisted road to success. Here are a few:

Avoiding the black holes of research and development by institutions:

Nothing kills creativity more than when land grant colleges as well as good intentioned top heavy non profits say they are ‘working on it’.  It will never see the light of day. If it does it will be locked up in a patent arrangement. Only those in the know with money are allowed to grow it. How to ruin a crop? Get the university involved or worse yet get advice from other non profits who know nothing about  agriculture yet feel they are very good at environmental advice on what is good and what is bad.  If you differ, you are bad. I have never seen a more horrible model for crop improvement and its only gotten worse over time.

Commercial farming:

Nothing can bring more success to a crop than commercial farming. Nothing can bring more failure to a crop than commercial farming.  It is not enough to create a new crop. There has to be ways to grow it, process it and use it all into one.  It has to be organic. That’s the future. The farmer has to profit from it even if it fails at first. Failure means no profits and may take several years unfortunately. But that can be tweaked with input from the farmer.  Farmer first and the crop will follow.  Without that there will be no change. No one is going too take out row crops on an experimental idea. There is no time for experimental farming. It takes 8 years to develop a new variety of annual bean.   Too long.  The farmer cannot be a personal piggy bank for new ideas.  That piggy bank is low on coin. Wake up.

Moving forward at a faster pace:

So many people have really good ideas on new perennial and woody crops and how to breed, grow and use them. Unfortunately putting that knowledge in practice will not happen in a timely fashion from what I have experienced or witnessed.  Often I think that many of these individuals working on these crops are clueless on the potential they have for humanity at large. It will be treated as a horticultural novelty or at most a demonstration plot somewhere telling people for years this is what the world needs. The retail market is an easy place to find those wishing to explore these wonderful crops. When I closed my nursery, one of the first things to happen was other companies started calling me letting me know they enjoyed my nursery and supported my research.  They were unaware that no one had decided to take on the crops I had developed and continue them commercially to any extent.  To them it was more or less “Ken’s hobby project’. Some even offered to dig the plants for free or wander around and get plants with me. They did not see the irony in that.  I did not find that surprising but I did find a bit insulting. How did I respond? Get them into the hands of people who will use them right away.  Non-profits, community gardens, public accessible permaculture plantings, and those who are actually feeding people now and those organizations who work to put fresh food on the table today. They can take experimental and make it practical now.  Are you one of them? Contact me now.  Perennial beans will be on the table tomorrow.

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