Saving ‘Grandma George’—the Bean, That Is!

John Simmons poses in his garden after planting the ‘Grandma George’ bean that Seed Savers Exchange repatriated to him this spring.

John Simmons poses in his garden after planting the ‘Grandma George’ bean that Seed Savers Exchange repatriated to him this spring.

Each April since 1978 John Simmons of Pontotoc, Mississippi, has done what his mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and, yes, great-great-grandmother all did before him: pull out a spade, till the soil, and sow the seeds of the family’s ‘Grandma George’ heirloom beans.

This April, however, John’s springtime ritual hit an unexpected hitch—he searched high and low but could not find his prized bean seeds. Thankfully, he knew exactly where to turn.  

“I remembered I had donated seeds to Seed Savers Exchange for preservation in 2005,” says John, who made a quick call to the organization’s Heritage Farm headquarters requesting a replacement sample. “I had new seeds in days.”

It wasn’t the first close call for the ‘Grandma George’ bean, which the family can trace to Rhonda Herring George, John’s great-great-grandmother (born in 1828).

Years ago, the bean seed was presumed lost in a relative’s house fire until John’s mother, Sarah Patterson Simmons, found some seed and, as John recalls, “saved the day.” This April, thanks to his foresight in donating his family’s seed for preservation at Seed Savers Exchange, John was able to keep the tradition of sowing the ‘Grandma George’ bean alive, albeit just a bit behind schedule. And, once his harvest is complete, he will once again save the seeds for sowing next year.

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For more than 40 years, people who care deeply about seed diversity have supported Seed Savers Exchange’s grassroots efforts to find and save adaptable, climate-ready seeds—seeds like the ‘Grandma George' bean—that have been shared within families for generations. 

Please help us continue this critical work; all donations made before June 1 will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $15,000. Donate now, and your investment will have double the impact.