Passing on seeds from the past

“Farmers and their buckets,” Dave Wilson explained to me. Mr. Wilson was fine waiting on payment for the bucket full of King Banquet bean seeds that he had brought us, but he would not be parted from his bucket. So he sat there semi-patiently, said bucket in between his irrigation-boot-clad feet, a managerial eye upon me as I searched for another receptacle for the bean seeds.

Dave Wilson is one of many people that we have had grow the King Banquet bean seed for us over the years. Dave’s father had grown and saved the King Banquet out in Yellow Jacket, so when we explained our problem of a limited source for a rare seed, he was willing to help us out.

Our first knowledge of the King Banquet bean came from Mrs. Aleen Glenn. When we began running the garden center back when, Aleen pulled open a wooden drawer and showed us the seed. She told us that it was a local seed and that her supplier for it was a Mr. Dale Jeter. Sometime later, in her living room, Aleen introduced us to Mr. Jeter.

Dale Jeter was born on the Dobbins Place, originally Noah Barnes’ watermelon farm, in McElmo Canyon, in 1921. His grandparents, Jake and Cora Dobbins, were from the same part of east Tennessee that the Halls, Galloways, Duncans, and other early pioneer families came from.

Dale was one of the kindest people that I ever met. He was always willing to share his time and considerable knowledge, and when Dale said he was glad to see you, you knew that he really meant it. I will always be grateful for the time I got to talk with him. Dale was also one of the strongest links with the early history of Montezuma County, having been born where and when he was.

Once I asked Dale about some old apple trees on the Dobbins Place. “Oh, those trees were old when I was a kid,” he replied.

Many times over the years I would ask Dale about the King Banquet bean, where it came from, who first grew what when. Early on we knew we were the keepers of something rare and it was important to us to save the seed and the history.

So again and again we would ask Dale and others for information about the seed.

Dale thought his mother grew the bean down in McElmo in the 1920s or ’30s, and we have heard that Mrs. Eldon Zwicker, Walter Hall’s daughter Lila, also saved the seed down in the canyon years back. Knowing that the bean was being grown both in McElmo and up in Yellow Jacket, I asked Mr. Chester Tozer how you would get from lower McElmo Canyon to Yellow Jacket on a horse, thinking that there would be a semidirect route. “Trail Canyon” was his answer. “There are other ways but all more difficult.” Of course the Dobbins Place is near the mouth of Trail Canyon.

To this scattering of information are numerous contradictory ideas as to where the King Banquet bean came from. One person told me that his father or grandfather brought the seed from Idaho or Oregon. Tommy Jeter, Dale’s son, and the person who actually saved the seed from going extinct, told me the seed came from a seed company south of Main Street in Cortez, circa the 1940s. Wade Wilson thought his father might have got the seed from Henry Field Seed Co.

The truth is, we just do not know where the King Banquet bean came from.

But we do know that this beautiful, tasty bean thrives here. And we know that for whatever reason, the King Banquet bean came into our hands and we have been its keepers. Through many trying years of running a small business, we often felt that the King Banquet bean was our reason for keeping Let It Grow going. The irony is not lost upon us that now, as we appear to have turned the long slow corner of this great recession, the King Banquet bean is more endangered than ever.

Plants, like people, come into your life unexpectedly, impacts and implications of another design. Always it would be easier to let go and move on, but some things remain. The preservation of the seed is the preservation of the people and of the place. As we have passed about the seeds in as many ways as we can randomly do, we have inadvertently increased the number of people, the size of this place, and the value of this plant.

We can only hope that the seeds of the King Banquet bean, and all of the history and potential that a seed represents, have passed or will pass to the hands of another, or to the hands of others.

Addie posted a picture of King Banquet beans and the blue ribbon that we won at the Montezuma County Fair on our Facebook page.

Jude Schuenemeyer is co-owner of Let It Grow Garden Nursery and Café in Cortez, Colo.

From Jude Schuenemeyer.