Click on the links above for information and recipes about these crops.
A lot is happening now that the real summer is here. The squash and cucumbers are pouring out of the plants, and the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are setting fruits. Basil will be here soon, as well as more dill and cilantro, and a new crop of carrots and beets are not far away.
Beans are one of the only vegetables commonly eaten in in the United States that is actually native to the Americas. (The short list includes squashes, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and corn.) Who knows what the first bean actually was like, but over generations it was morphed into the thousands of archived varieties of dry beans, and, probably after making it to Europe and back, was massaged into something tender enough to eat raw.
Interestingly, the Fava Bean isn’t really a bean at all. It’s actually in the pea family, joined by the vetches, and is the only bean native to the old world. They are much more popular in Europe and the middle East than they are in the Americas, except where immigrants settled in the new world. They are very popular with Italians. You can read more about them here.
The Green River Valley used to be full of farms that grew peas and beans. Before the Howard Hansen Dam made it possible to build highway 167, and make building warehouses cheap on the flat valley floor, the entire valley was full of farms. Not many people remember those days, and I didn’t get to see our valley in that condition, but I can imagine. The river was wide and flooded nearly every year, spreading nutrients and building lush soil—considered some of the richest in the US.
My dad grew up in this area. During the Great Depression, his family had a chicken farm up on the East Hill of Kent, somewhere around 116th and 256th. Who can tell now, he was just a kid. Later they moved to the city, and lived on Beacon Hill, and south Lake Union. As a kid of 12 or 13, he used to hop on a freight train in Seattle and head south, jumping off the train either in the Black River area (between Renton and Southcenter) to pick beans or right around our area to pick peas. No, his mom had no idea where he was all day long, and she didn’t worry because he was always home at night.
The bean farm was called something like Umpidahts. Before Southcenter was built (also thanks to the Howard Hansen Dam holding back floodwaters), the whole area used to be very marshy and full of farms. Mike’s family had their original farm there as well, surrounded by dairies. It was very rich and moist, and perfect for growing vegetables. This bean farm visited by my dad grew pole beans and it was at least 50 acres, huge in those days. They always let the Indian and Italian women pick through the rows first, and then let the kids in after to clean up any beans left behind by the faster ladies. They paid 60¢ a hamper and he would pick as fast as he could until he got three hampers full, by mid-day, and then cash in his tickets and collect his pay. (The hampers were a bushel, much like this one, but it had straps like a backpack so you could wear it while you picked.)
The pea farm where he picked was owned by a Filipino family named Mendoza, and was on the East side of the valley, not far from our farm. The kids were scared of the field boss because he patrolled the rows carrying a machete. He looked pretty ominous, but he remembers that he was fair about giving the young people rows that weren’t already picked over, unlike the Black River bean farm.
As he says, “It was hot in the summer down there, but I liked it. I was my own boss, earned enough to buy all my clothes and have enough left over for fun, like movies, milk shakes, and hobby stuff like model planes and my Army shoulder patch collection.”