“I must be a gambler at heart. Growing beans is the biggest gamble in farming. We don’t need to go to Vegas, that’s for sure,” says Randy Hampshire of Hampshire Farms. Randy harvested 22 tons of Great Northerns last fall but had hoped to harvest double that amount. “You never know with beans—they don’t handle high temperatures well.”
Although the climate in their area (near Kingston, in Michgan’s “thumb”) is perfect for growing, dried bean production has slowed in recent years. “We lost out to China long ago,” says Shirley Hampshire. And even finding seed for Great Northerns has proved difficult: “The seed we acquired was two years old and came in by freight from Washington State. We didn’t even know for sure it would come up.”
But farming flows like an addiction in Randy’s and Shirley’s blood. Now farming is in their kids’ blood, too. Daughter Amalie, 22, son Brandon, 21, and Brandon’s girlfriend Heather help Randy and Shirley on Hampshire Farms’ 200 cultivated acres.
“We’ve grown organic split peas, pinto, black turtle, soy, adzuki, navy, garbanzo and dark red kidney beans,” says Randy. “I decided to focus on Great Northerns (shown at left) last year. I like to have a niche—no one else grows them here.”
Tips for cooking dry beans
- Pick through and discard moldy beans and stones.
- Wash beans well.
- You can soak dry beans in two way: 8 hours in lots of cold water or by bringing them to a boil, turning off the heat, covering and allowing them to sit for 1 hour.
- For hard water, add 1/2 teaspoon sea salt to soaking water for tender beans.
- Always drain soaking water and bring beans to a boil in fresh, cold water.
- Cook beans until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
—by Nancy Krcek Allen