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



Joseph Simcox with beans

The showiest beans on earth: Joe Simcox started growing beans as a four-year-old, and has been collecting them since he was around 7. Beans are one of the world's most amazing crops, with perhaps tens of thousands of varieties.

Photo by Anthony B. Rodriquez

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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