Types of Beans: A Poor Man’s Jewels

The story of the common bean takes us all over the world. Here, a seed explorer shares types of beans and how they arrived on our plates.

| Fall 2014

My first and only personal meeting with the late Robert Lobitz happened on a frigid midwinter’s day in Minnesota. Robert lived in a small wooden house in Paynesville, and his passion in life was beans.

He made that evident the moment I entered his door. Robert was a frugal soul; his massive bean collection was stored in carefully trimmed and reconstructed cereal boxes. As Robert opened box after box of beans, a panoply of colors lay on the table before me.

He told me how he had been bitten by the bean-collecting bug as a young man; his passion embodied later that morning in a statement he made to me upon presenting a table full of diversity. Motioning as if to embrace the pile he said, “These, Joe, are a poor man’s jewels.”

A couple of years after I met Robert, he passed away. However, his generosity and passion live on. Impressed and amazed by the beans Robert had shared with me, I resolved myself to get them into permanent seed bank collections, and with other serious gardeners. Nowadays, many of the “one-of-a-kind varieties” that Robert selected are safely being maintained in national and international gene banks and with private collectors.

I have been blessed in my life to make the acquaintance with many people like Robert. There are bean collectors all over the world. Some do it for practical reasons — i.e., beans make up a substantial part of their diet, like the Guatemalan Highlanders. Others do it because they are awed by the humble bean’s diversity.

European Bean Collectors

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