Book Review: Growing Beans Makes The Case For Beans

Susan Young’s "Growing Beans" explores the reasons to grow and eat more beans, and provides a comprehensive guide for doing so.

by Robin Hackett
PHOTO: courtesy of Permanent Publications

Title: Growing Beans: A Diet for Healthy People and Planet

Author: Susan Young

Cover Price: $14.95

Publication Date:  May 5, 2022

Publisher: Permanent Publications

If I had to select one crop to read an entire book about, beans would certainly be at the top of my list. Fortunately for me (and you), Susan Young has already written just such a book. Growing Beans: A Diet for Healthy People and Planet reads as a kind of manifesto for bean growers. 

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As she describes throughout the book, beans have the potential to offer a kind of triple bottom line: They’re healthy, delicious and good for the soil.

A Bean Manifesto

As with any good manifesto, Young’s objective is unsubtle. Simply put, Young wants people to grow and eat more beans.  As she describes in the preface, “Beans are an ancient food that has nourished a host of past civilizations and remain a staple food in many parts of the world, yet for some reason, many of us have yet to discover the delights of beans in all their variety and deliciousness.  Why don’t we grow and eat more?”

The answer that Young offers is a simple one: In the UK, at least, (where Young is writing from) there isn’t a long-standing tradition of growing beans. Beans are certainly a larger part of our culinary tradition here in the U.S., but they’re still not what’s for dinner most nights. 

Nor are they a staple in most home gardens or small farms that I’m familiar with. But perhaps they could be.

Read more: Check out these 5 ways to cook with beans!

A Growing Guide

Aside from making the case as to why we should grow more beans, Growing Beans also provides a detailed guide for doing so. Young devotes much of the middle of the book to the basics of growing beans, covering everything from germinating to watering, trellising and harvesting. She also spends time investigating a few of the common pests and diseases that afflict bean crops, including halo blight and bean weevils.  

Although many of Young’s references to pests and varieties are specific to Europe, much of the information is relevant no matter where you’re growing beans.

Culinary Focus

Another large portion of the book explores several of Young’s favorite bean varieties, describing everything from their cultural history to their culinary attributes. When describing borlotti beans, for instance, Young outlines their many uses in Italian cuisine, including their role in various stews and pasta dishes. 

And she follows up all of these culinary references with a full chapter at the end of the book on the basics of bean cookery. 

Finding these culinary details in the same book that teaches you about bean weevils is a large part of what makes Growing Beans so unique. Books on growing food and preparing food (and I read a lot of both) are typically very distinct from each other. Addressing both the agricultural and culinary dimensions of beans in the same pages brings more of one story together in one place.  

Although the information throughout the book is generally geared toward a home gardener, as someone who’s grown beans commercially for years, I came away with more than a bit of new knowledge myself.

Overall, Growing Beans is a unique, ambitious and exciting project, and one well worth checking out.  


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