Bushy Beans

By Tsinte Steinruck

O ne bright warm summer day Papa and I were out in the gigantic garden full of different types of fruits and vegetables. Different varieties of beans, cabbage, pumpkins, peas, kale, swiss chard, sunflowers, and apple trees were growing in Papa’s garden.

In the bean section, we planted a bean called the bayo bean. It is a little dark red bean with one or two white spots. The bayo is a bush bean. When we started planting we made little pockets in the dirt to put the beans in. Then we covered them up with dirt and watered them.

After a few weeks, the seeds sprouted and started producing pods that grew on the bush. While papa and I were companionably weeding, we heard one of the little beans inside say to his mother, “How did those people out there get us?”

“Well,” said his mother. “Let me tell you the story of our early beginnings. We are a very very old and special bean. Our name for the type of bean we are is called bayo bean. It was a long, long time ago. We have been in the same family for five generations. Your great, great, great grandmother Kelly bean was brought to the Smith River Valley, Del Norte County, by an early pioneer. She ended up in the hands of a Tolowa Indian woman by the name of Delilah Frank. Kelly Bean and many others were planted in the garden of Delilah. Delilah, in addition to an herb garden, she had a vegetable garden and this is where the special family bean life cycle received its start.”

After the planted seeds had grown into a plant and the beans were harvested, some of them were dried for the next years garden, and some of them were eaten in many meals. A few of the beans that were dried were Kelly Bean’s children and one of them became your great, great grandmother Nina Bean.”

“Nina bean was handed down to Alice Charley who is the girl’s great great grandmother. Nina bean had been planted in the same exact garden as Kelly Bean,” she added. “Twenty years has passed and another batch of bayo beans had grown in the garden. After several years of bayo bean harvest came the birth of your great grandmother Rachel Bean. Rachel Bean and others were handed down to the girl’s great grandmother, Eunice Henry. Eunice Henry, youngest of nine children, learned how to plant a garden from her mother Alice Charley. Alice handed her a small sack of bayo beans for her to plant. It was the last item to be planted in a large vegetable garden. In an old flour sack, Rachel Bean and all the others that were dried in the previous year sat patiently waiting to be planted next year.

“As the years passed more gardens were planted and harvested and within one special year of planting seven rows of bayo beans Belle bean, your grandmother, was born. Sheryl Bommelyn, the girl’s grandmother planted six rows of bayo beans in her garden. After several years of successful planting and harvesting a special bean was also born in a pod with five other beans which were her brothers and sisters. Claire Bean, one of the six in the pod, was her given name. Claire Bean was dried and she remained in a gunny sack for several years being kept in a cool dry place with other bayo beans. Her time would come in later years to be planted in a special spot in the garden.

Claire Bean and others were planted in the garden and the next generation of bayo beans came to life. Jaytuk Steinruck harvested his crop of bayo beans and a sack of beans have now been handed down to Tsinte Steinruck to plant. Tolowa family bayo bean harvest will continue.” The bayo bean is a very special bean to my family and I will be the sixth generation to grow such a special bean.

Tsinte Steinruck can trace her family tree back six generations using a tiny spotted bean.

Starting with her great great great grandmother Delilah Frank, who received the bayo bean from an early pioneer to the Smith River Valley, Tsinte, a fifth grader at Smith River School, wrote a chronicle of her heritage from the bean’s perspective.

Her family and her teacher, Terri Gruden, think it’s because Tsinte’s story is largely true that she was named a 2017 Region 1 winner in the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom’s Imagine This... writing competition. Tsinte is one of two fifth graders to receive the award from Region 1, which includes 18 counties in Northern California, Gruden said. Tsinte received a plaque, a certificate and a copy of Tom Darbyshire’s “Who Grew My Soup?”

“The best part about the story (the person) who taught me how to be a good garden teacher, that was her grandfather, Mr. (Don) Steinruck,” Gruden said at Smith River School’s award ceremony Friday. “It’s kind of a really neat opportunity to think about how garden education comes and each generation teaches us.”

The bayo bean grows in a shell on a bush, Tsinte said. Her family began growing them at the village of Nii~-lii~-chun-dvn, about a mile up South Bank Road from the Dr. Fine Bridge. The beans have been handed down from mother to daughter until it came to her grandmother, Sheryl Steinruck.

“She married my papa and he always likes to garden,” Tsinte said. “So he planted a garden and he planted them in the garden.”

Sheryl Steinruck handed her stash of dried beans to her son Jaytuk, according to Tsinte’s story. Tsinte said she’s the sixth generation in her family to grow the beans.

Once the beans are ready for harvesting, they are shelled and spread onto a tarp to dry, Sheryl Steinruck said. She compared them to a pinto bean and said she can remember her mother and aunts sitting around after the harvest shelling beans. Sheryl Steinruck said she even remembers getting a bean stuck up her nose when she was a year old.

Tsinte said her grandfather, Don Steinruck, inspired her to write “Bushy Beans.”

Sheryl Steinruck said her husband, who was Gruden’s predecessor in the garden at Smith River School, wanted to encourage a student of his to write an intergenerational story for the Imagine This... contest.

“What I like about it is she and Don took a part of our history, just a little kernel, but that’s how things grow,” Sheryl Steinruck said. “It’s a seed and when you plant the seed it flourishes into something else and something beyond that. Tsinte having this positive experience like that helps her see the full picture of the cycle. She already sees the cycle of life and so this will help her maybe with her career and what she decides to do as she grows older.”

Tsinte wasn’t the first student from Del Norte County or Smith River School to be a winner of the Imagine This... competition. That honor goes to Robin Suzuki, who was Don Steinruck’s student in 2001.

Gruden said along with Tsinte’s story, other students to enter the contest from her class include Neela Travis, Dylan Rodriguez and Marcos Nuñez.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .