As March of 2020 drew to a close our team sat down and starting looking at the road ahead. As a farm specializing in value added products, what could we put in the ground that would feed our community?
For years we've been growing small amounts of Zolfini, Controne and Sorana beans, Italian heirloom white beans, that have grown a vibrant following among many of our customers. In 2020, as we scaled back our pepper production we doubled (more like quintupled!) our bean production. And thus, the quest was on to find a way to thresh them come fall.
Behold - the Bicycle Powered Bean Thresher!
Built off plans from a 2017 Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education grant, Nacho built this little guy to help us peddle our way to 1000 pounds of 5 different varieties of beans!
I think a logical question would be something along the lines of "why don't you just hook something up to your tractor?" or "that can't possibly be cost effective!"
Why don't you we just hook something up to the tractor?
Beans aren't like other crops, where you dig them up out of the ground, cut off what you want, and are good to go. Think of green beans - the beans are in the pod that grow on the plant. It's the same for your dry beans. After the pods dry out we need to break open the pods and free the final product.
In the 1960's there were 'bean specials'. Tractors that would fit on a farm our scale and do all the biking for us. But as small scale production gave way to the larger, GPS guided operations in Iowa, the smaller bean specials fell by the wayside (if anyone has one in their barn - we're buying). Our friends at Santa Rosa Junior College have one on their farm, but it turns out, we all kinda harvest beans at the same time.
While there are some options on the market, with a $14,000 price tag, such machines are currently out of our reach.
Is this cost effective?
Great question. We think so? Selling heirloom beans allows us to have a higher price point, which helps. And while there was a week where Martin just road a bike every day I still think we'll come out ahead at the end of the day. One of the nice things is that we could move this bike around the farm to where we had our different plantings. We didn't need to bring everything to our greenhouse, where we'd focused our processing in the past.
The bike was inexpensive to build (~$500 vs $14,000 is an easy choice in a hard year) and easier than some of the other methods of small scale bean threshing. We think the bike is here for several years, especially if we can offer it as an easy solution for our neighbors as well!
Buy the Beans!
So there you have it. Starting in 2020 our beans are threshed by bicycle! We ensure that those who support our farm through the Boon Box have first access to our beans. You can see what we have available by visiting our 'shop' page!