Cultivating Hank's Beans and a Seed Center | Omega

“Part of what is missing in the seed industry is the spirit of seed,” says Ken Greene, cofounder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, and the Center of Seed Stewardship.

If you took a close look at Omega’s main garden in the summer of 2015, you might have noticed something growing that’s truly unique. Something that embodies the "spirit of seed." It may have looked like any old bean, but it’s a bean with a special story. It’s 'Hank's Xtra Special Baking Bean.'

Rediscovering Hank's Beans

“Hank’s bean was the first seed that was donated to the Hudson Valley Seed Library.” Greene says. “I was still working at the Gardiner Library, and the library director, Peg Lotvin, had gone home to help her mom clean up her basement. Her father, Hank, had passed away maybe four or five years before. Hank had grown beans every year because he loved baked beans. He had a very specific idea of what made a good bean for making baked beans. He was selecting the plants over time to express the characteristics that he thought were ideal. There’s no other bean like it, because one person was guiding the changes in evolution of that particular variety.”

“When we found these beans, we weren’t sure if they would germinate or not,” Greene said. “But enough did that we were able to grow them, save seeds from them, and bring them back from near extinction.”

Planting & Sharing 

Omega planted Hank’s beans alongside a collaborative project headed up by the Glynwood Center in Cold Spring, New York. Several farms in the Hudson Valley grew the beans. Each was paired with a local New York restaurant that created and shared the beans in sold-out events across the Hudson Valley. In addition to sharing the beans with restaurants, 10 percent of the harvest was sent back to the Hudson Valley Seed Library to preserve the seed stock for future generations, echoing the way small-scale agriculture was conducted prior to the industrialization and consolidation that's taken place over the last half century.

Greene explains, “For generations, farmers and small gardeners alike were active participants in a practice older than civilization—the stewardship of seeds—but this skill set has been now relegated to scientists and corporations.”

A Seed Saving Challenge

Saving seed isn’t without it’s trials and tribulations, though. Omega’s 2015 crop was largely eaten by our resident woodchucks, despite best efforts to protect the plants. From the seeds we were able to save, we tested their viability, and it looks promising (see photo). We will plant the remaining seeds and hope for a larger yield in 2016 so we can give a portion back to the Hudson Valley Seed Library in the fall.

Growing the Center for Seed Stewardship

Greene's latest effort is the Center for Seed Stewardship (CSS), which he says was inspired by connections made at the 2014 and 2015 Omega Center for Sustainable Living conferences. "This nonprofit would not be happening if it wasn't for the ability to connect and build community around the concept of the commons at Omega." 

CSS aims to spread the knowledge and practice of seed saving by creating a network of seed libraries and seed sanctuaries. Greene looks to “rekindle participatory seed stewardship on a regional level, decentralize seed production and access nationally, and create a culture in which seed stewardship is revered.”

CSS plans to form individual seed sanctuaries through the Northeast, beginning in the Hudson Valley. Each of these sites will be centers for discovering and trialing regionally adapted plant varieties, educating the public on seed stewardship, producing organic seed for the region, and training farmers on how to produce seed in our region.

The organization is in its early stages of germination and will continue to plan its growth in a retreat at Omega during our annual Service Week in 2016.

© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies