Dry beans have their days in the sun, lying in windrows after harvest on West Side farms.
Growers hope to shine a light of another kind on the crops, showcasing their role in keeping people healthy and chefs inspired. The California Dry Bean Advisory Board has launched a website, www.calbeans.org, featuring recipes, nutrition tips, farmer profiles and other information.
Stanislaus County leads the state in production of the beans – lima, blackeye and several other types – but they are nowhere near the top-grossing crops. Nor do they have the glamour of almonds, walnuts, wine grapes or cheese.
But beans are cheap for consumers, packed with fiber and other nutrients, and central to Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern and several other cuisines.
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“I think that they will always be there because they are a good source of protein for the money, and you can dress them up,” said Matt Maring, who grows about 250 acres of baby limas between Patterson and Westley.
Dress them up is just what executive chef Michael Goularte does at Galletto Ristorante, one of downtown Modesto’s best-known dining spots. He puts pinto beans into minestrone and purees garbanzos with a cured meat called lardo. A salad features large limas, house-smoked bacon, endive, shallots, parsley and feta.
“For the Italian restaurant that we are, we do use a lot of beans,” said Goularte, one of several chefs featured on the website. He added that beans help Galletto honor its pledge to use plenty of local farm products.
The bean board, based in Dinuba, Tulare County, is working on the campaign with the Ali Cox & Co. marketing agency. Cox, who was raised in Turlock, is a former Olympic rower and the daughter of bean grower Chuck Cox.
California produces 10 types – baby lima, large lima, garbanzo, black-eye, dark red kidney, light red kidney, cranberry, black, pink and pinto. Some of the pintos go into Rosarita refried beans, processed at a ConAgra Foods plant in Oakdale that also cans tomatoes. Several types end up at the Teasdale Quality Foods cannery in Atwater.
The campaign is about getting consumers to use dry beans from scratch. It offers tips on storing, soaking and cooking. It notes that beans are high in complex carbohydrates, iron, zinc, folate and other nutrients.
Online visitors also can learn how beans are grown. Farmers plant them in spring, water the rows by furrow or drip irrigation, and cut the plants down in late summer or fall. The beans dry in their pods for about two weeks, then are threshed and shipped to a warehouse for packing.
Maring said the crop is not very labor-intensive. And beans are legumes, meaning they convert airborne nitrogen into a form that plant roots can take up. Maring said this fertilizer remains in the field for the tomatoes that follow the next year.
Maring, a third-generation bean farmer, also grows cantaloupes, almonds, grapes, cherries and alfalfa. He said that in his 25 years of producing beans, he has never seen a promotional campaign like the one now underway.
“For what you spend on them, they’re a great bargain,” he said. “They’re a great staple.”