Mayocoba, Rio Zape, Ayocote, Rebosero, Eye of Goat, Good Mother Stallard. Just some of the many varieties of beans sold by Rancho Gordo – our bean heroes.
On February 11th (5pm), as part of the Gaia Foundation’s Seed Gathering Hodmedod's Josiah Meldrum will be in conversation with Steve Sando, founder of Rancho Gordo and joyous, irreverent pulse pioneer.
The conservation of agricultural crop diversity is unlike the protection of wild species - because the best way to conserve it is to eat it.
Josiah and Steve will talk about how creating markets and excitement for less usual crops is a critical - and delicious - part of their conservation. Our experience with peas, beans and other pulses on two continents shows that there are a range of scales at which this works best, and that scale will vary for for different crops and geographies. ‘Appropriately scaled is beautiful’ as E. F. Schumacher didn’t quite say.
Founded by Sando in around 2001, Californian based Rancho Gordo has become one of the world’s best-loved bean businesses. Despite no background in agriculture and motivated by a cook’s desire for the best ingredients more than an interest in horticulture, Sando began by growing heritage tomato varieties for flavours he couldn’t find in the shops. Tomatoes led to beans. Amazed at just how good his heirloom beans tasted Sando took table space at a farmers’ market in Napa and began sharing what he was growing.
Drawn to the diversity of beans, but in particular to varieties from Phaseolus species that had historically been grown in and are indigenous to the Americas, Sando established Rancho Gordo to celebrate and promote beans and recipes from across the area where they were first domesticated (the southern US and Central America).
Quickly realising that his real gift was in selling and cooking the beans rather than growing them and that demand was rapidly outstripping supply, Sando began developing the Rancho Gordo network of farmers. Mainly located in California’s Central Valley Rancho Gordo also now works with farmers in Oregon, Washington and New Mexico.
Sando still carries out bean trials in his Napa garden and travels regularly to collect seeds. It was on one such trip to Mexico in 2008 that he met Yunuen Carrillo Quiroz and Gabriel Cortes Garcia, they’d set up a business called Xoxoc to export cactus fruit to the US and had connections with many small farmers who also happened to be growing and hand harvesting extraordinary beans. While Sando could have simply bought seeds to grow the beans in California, it seemed far better to support these small scale farmers – to protect their knowledge and the varieties they were growing.
At around the same time, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, cheap commodity beans from industrial farming were flooding into Mexico from the US, displacing the traditional varieties that had been grown for generations and undermining the farmers’ livelihoods. Quiroz, Garcia and Sandos set up the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project to bring these amazing beans into the US giving Mexican farmers reason to protect genetic diversity, low-impact farming and many of the cultural traditions associated with particular bean varieties.
But regardless of its positive social, economic and environmental impact, Sando is very clear that the reason the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project is working is because the beans just taste so good.
Released just in time for World Pulses Day on the 10th February, Cool Beans, a wonderful film by Atlus Obscura, captures the the charm, reach and power of Rancho Gordo. Watch it and we defy you not to want beans for dinner:
The Hodmedod x Rancho Gordo conversation is part of The Gaia Foundation’s second Seed Gathering. With on-line events across Saturday 11th – Sunday 12th of February it's a space to share, learn, and celebrate incredible work with seeds happening all over the UK and Ireland.
The Seed Gathering weekend, part of the Gaia Foundation's Seed Sovereignty Programme, is the culmination of #SeedWeek, from Monday 6th – Friday 10th February: Britain’s annual, flagship, social media showcase of all things seed. Friday the 10th also happens to be World Pulses Day - an extra reason for celebration!
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