What it means to be a product of agricluture
A note from Lesley
Over a decade ago, I dreamed of creating a site that would shed light on how the ag industry shapes our expectations of what we see in the grocery store. I hoped that by sharing more about how popular fresh produce items were grown and classified cosmetically, more people would rethink what they brought into their kitchens and be inspired to seek out diversity in their food. The website never went live, but the relevancy lives on.
Thanks to Primary Beans, I now have the opportunity to talk about what it means to be a product of agriculture in the context of beans. And it’s perfect – because beans are the ultimate example of what I aimed to demonstrate all those years ago. After all, in just a single bag you can visually see all the shapes, color variations, and whimsiness that Mother Nature has to offer.
Have you ever noticed the varying degrees of quality in your sources of beans? One package might contain some pebbles and dirty beans, while others might look extremely clean and uniform.
It all comes down to the cleaning process the beans are subject to. Large commercial operations have access to fancy “eyeing” equipment, where discolored beans are automatically sorted out. Small-scale agriculture relies on manual methods, or a combination of manual and mechanical processes. (Of course, there are exceptions – several of our farms have access to eyeing equipment suitable for the volumes they grow).
Ultimately, it’s up to us to define cosmetic standards that balance the expectations of our customers (and the industry as a whole) with a final product that represents what it means to be a product of agriculture. We're not subject to the whim of behemoth retail chains, so we can come up with our own philosophy:
- Larger beans take longer to cook than smaller beans so sizing needs to be fairly consistent.
- Variation in color doesn't impact the cooked product, so why sort out beautiful beans that spontaneously grew as a different color?
- Agricultural debris (verrrry common in beans given the dried pod’s interaction with dirt) creates extra work for the home cook, so we should minimize it to the extent possible.
- Critters of any sort aren’t acceptable, yet they’re an ongoing challenge in organic agriculture.
Even with all our protocols we've refined the last 2 seasons, imperfections will occur. Please share any feedback with us so we can continue to improve and innovate.
And the next time you shop at a grocery store or farmers’ market, I encourage you to pay attention and even embrace the imperfect. By doing so you'll contribute to less waste, and still get to enjoy delicious food in the way that Mother Nature has always intended.