Fifteen years ago, Krista Rome began a small garden in her yard as a way of getting more connected with her food. Each year she enjoyed what she calls “peaceful tinkering,” tending her garden with basic hand tools. Then in 2008 she read three books back to back which changed her life: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver; Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan; and Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, who first wrote about the locavore “100-mile diet” (eating only foods produced within a 100-mile radius of where you live).
Based on what she learned, Krista began trying to eat as a locavore. She discovered the food production in Whatcom County was missing an important food group–vegetable proteins, which are provided by foods such as dry beans, other legumes, grains, and seeds. Local commercial farmers weren’t growing these things, so she couldn’t go to the Farmer’s Market to buy them.
Krista decided to try some small scale experimenting, and the Backyard Beans & Grains Project (BBGP) was born. Krista’s initial hope was to find out if there were commercially practical ways to raise these products in Whatcom County, and to inspire existing local farmers to begin growing them.
First she had to find some land. Dusty Williams at Broadleaf Farm made her an offer for use of a quarter acre of his land near Everson. He said he would till it for her in the spring and then let her do what she wanted with it. Many of her trial crops grew well that year, so she figured she was onto something.
Now, five years later, Krista is still doing research with different legume and grain varieties, keeping detailed records about what grows well, labor involved, maturity dates, etc. Maturity dates are particularly important in our climate since beans and grains need to dry before harvesting, so they need to ripen early enough to dry before the fall rains start. Krista also sells seeds for hard-to-find varieties which grow well here.
For the first time, Krista is also offering a winter foods CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program this year. In a CSA, people pay a farmer in the spring or early summer for a “share” of the farmer’s crops that year. When the crops are ripe, the food is delivered, usually over a period of weeks during the growing season.
Krista’s CSA (called Three Sisters CSA) is different, because all the food will be delivered at once in late October or early November, and is intended for storage and use throughout the winter. For $300 ($100 deposit with the balance due at pick-up), the CSA will include heirloom dry beans, grains, seeds, garlic, winter squash, potatoes, and storage onions.
Today Krista is mostly focused on educating others to grow these crops for themselves. She has been traveling around the county giving presentations to gardening groups and others teaching classes about bean and grain gardening, winter food storage methods, and low-energy food preservation techniques (such as root cellaring, fermenting, and so on). She also has a volunteer program which allows people to get hands on experience growing and threshing grains and legumes.
Krista recently wrote an instruction manual which is available in both print and electronic versions. Titled “Growing Dry Beans & Grains in the Pacific Northwest: A Step-by-Step Guide to Producing Your Own Staple Foods,” it’s a full-color guide to growing 13 of the most reliable dry legumes and grains for our climate. It includes details on planting, maintenance, harvest, threshing, and storage, along with cooking tips, expected yields, and recommended varieties.
I asked Krista what she thought was the most important thing she’d like to see changed about our food production systems. “GMOs need to go away,” she said, “and we need to change the way we feed kids at schools.” And what does she think is the most important thing for people to know about their food? “The farmer who grew it,” she said. “Then the door is open to finding out whatever else you want to know about how that food was grown.”
When it comes to cooking with beans, Krista recommends keeping it simple. “Also,” she says, “don’t add salt or anything acid until the very end. It stops them from softening.”
To contact Krista about her CSA, to order her book, or to get on her email list for volunteering, use the contact form on her website or call her at (360) 224-4757. If you have any great heirloom varieties of beans or grains you’d like to share, she noted those are always welcome.