It Takes a Village

by Sister Kathy Curtis

Sister Kathy Curtis here and I am honored and excited to have been chosen by Community Farm Alliance for this project. Through my work with the Grow Appalachia program at St. Vincent Mission, I have come to appreciate and value the stories that are an inseparable part of gardening in eastern KY. It was rare that I would visit someone’s home to check on their garden and not leave with an arm full of fresh veggies and an earful of wonderful stories.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAI love the name, Breaking Beans-The Appalachian Food Story Project, because it is really hard to break beans by yourself. It is a very boring chore so you always want someone else to help. With someone-anyone- helping you, fingers fly and so do tongues. While breaking beans, I have learned the “right way” to cook the beans we were working, as well as family stories, historical anecdotes, natural remedies and all sorts of mountain wisdom.

I recently asked a small group of people, “What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘Breaking Beans’?” Three responses were:

“Mamaw in her rocking chair with muscly fingers and a relaxed demeanor. Elvis playing in the background with sweat on her brow”. Candace Mullins-Grow Appalachia in Berea, Kentucky (don’t you love the image of “muscly fingers”?)

“Makes me remember those old lawn chairs that would burn your legs if they’d been in the sun…sitting out under the shade tree on those chairs and wondering if we’d ever finish. Once I promised I wouldn’t eat any beans ever again if I didn’t have to break them. I’d give anything for just one more of those afternoons with my Mawmaw and Pawpaw now.” -Roseann Kent, storyteller from Macon, GA.

And from Joyce Pinson’s Big Red Barn in Pike County, “Porch sitting sometimes so silent all you hear is the snap of the hulls and the dull thud when they go into a kettle, pieces at a time. The rattling of newspaper as yet another person joins the group, placing newspapers to catch the strings in their lap. Loud laughter and giggles, sharing the day’s events and the secret confidences that connect close family and friends. Different heaps….my father-in-law could string beans so elegantly the pile would be appear like fine threads-my pile looked like something the cat hacked up. Little youngin’s sitting on the porch floor counting beans, gathering up more piles of full pods to deliver to the “old” people. Bushel baskets and sore fingers. Sitting so long the porch light had to come on, and coffee sparked the energies. Sorting beans making sure no strings got passed into final production. Steamy hot kettles, one for fresh eating and the other a cauldron for the canning jars. Buckets of bean strings for the compost pile to enrich the soil so we can do it all again. Hot jars pinging. Green beans, fried tomatoes and a hunk of cornbread on the plate. Time well spent making memories”.

As you can see, fingers stringing and breaking beans must connect straight to that part of the brain that stores memories. And that is one of the things this project hopes to find-the deep, old mountain memory of agriculture in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

I look forward to hearing these stories and as is true of any good story-sharing them. So come back to the blog often. And if you’ve got any, bring along some beans to work.