Sacred beans: Harvesting on the San Xavier Co-Op Farm

Updated: Nov. 26, 2019 at 5:07 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Along a busy road on the Tohono O’odham Nation, lies the San Xavier Co-Op Farm.

There, you can find dried goods, seasonal produce, nursery plants and alfalfa all grown organically on about 850 acres of farm land.

This time of year, the farm is focused on harvesting red and white tepary beans. The beans are well known at the co-op farm and the O’odham have traditionally grown these beans long before the co-op ever existed.

It all starts with a supply of beans saved from the previous farming season. The beans are planted in crops, separated by color. The green sprouts dry out and turn a yellow-brown when they are ready to be harvested.

Using machinery, the plant matter is gathered and the bulk is broken down by labor. The beans are hidden and must be sifted out through this process.

From there, the beans are placed in bins and sent to be packaged for sale or to be stored again for the next year.

“Growing up I never thought of the importance to save seed and how it ties into food sovereignty," said Joshua Preston, food production staff employee and San Xavier community member.

The co-op farm recently attended the Indigenous Food Festival on the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe, where they showcased the red and white tepary beans by making dip and gluten free brownies.

“With crops like the white and red beans, it makes us unique and they also make us O’odham," Preston said. "It has made not only the O’odham, but also chefs bring something old yet new to the dinner table. Simple things like these small innovative dishes makes me feel good because I know our team’s long days make it all worth the work.”

Many who work on the farm are indigenous and for the co-op, harvesting the beans is more than just a tradition.

The O’odham people say it all began a long time ago with a grandfather and his orphaned grandson. From the grandfather’s perspective, the grandson could not do anything right.

He questioned his grandson and asked why he wasn’t hunting, why he wasn’t running, and why he wasn’t out working in the fields. As a result, this caused the grandson to run away, never to return. The grandfather felt guilty. He searched for his grandson and called out to him, saying he was sorry and wanted him to return home.

Four years past and the grandfather was still in mourning. At that time, the O’odham people were experiencing a food drought. One night, the grandson came to the grandfather in a dream. The grandfather explained to his grandson how the people were in need of food.

The grandson then went up to the sky and came down with the white tepary bean. He told the grandfather how to grow the bean so it could feed the people. His message was: If you take care of the beans, the beans will take care of the people.

Part of the co-op farm’s mission is just that — to take care of the food and the land so it can take care of the people in return.

The San Xavier Co-Op Farm is open to the public, offers catering, and hosts events. Their next event is ARTisan Market on Nov. 30. For more information on the San Xavier Co-Op Farm, visit their website HERE.

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