Phil Appleby and His Beloved ‘Big Brown’ Bean

The year was 1935, the place Northern Ohio. As the Great Depression raged on and war clouds gathered abroad, young Phil Appleby went quietly about the business of weeding the corn stalk rows where his family’s treasured ‘Big Brown’ beans grew.

As most 10-year-olds likely would, he detested the job. But, boy oh boy, did he love eating that heirloom bean—especially when his mom served it up with ham hocks.

As an adult, Phil stewarded ‘Big Brown’ as carefully as his parents, Maude and Walter, had before him. (“I grew up in the Great Depression so it was ingrained in me to grow and save," he says.) Yet despite his painstaking efforts to preserve 'Big Brown,' Phil became increasingly concerned that his beloved bean seed would not survive and thus took the first step to ensure that it would: He began sharing it with anyone who was interested, including John Withee, the celebrated “bean man.”

 Visit Seed Savers Exchange's online exhibit on John Withee (the "BEAN MAN") to LEarn More ABOUT Phil Appleby's ' Big Brown' bean .

Visit Seed Savers Exchange's online exhibit on John Withee (the "BEAN MAN") to LEarn More ABOUT Phil Appleby's 'Big Brown' bean.

In 1981, John shared ‘Big Brown’ with Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah. Today we continue to preserve the ‘Big Brown’ bean at our Heritage Farm headquarters, and Phil (now in his 90s!) continues to grow, save, and share the bean with friends and family. That includes his daughter, Claudia, who has her own childhood memories of ‘Big Brown.’ “I was about five when I first remember Granny fixing them with ham hocks,” she says.

Because of seed savers like Phil and Claudia, Seed Savers Exchange is increasing agricultural biodiversity and putting heirloom seeds back in the hands of the small farmer and backyard gardener. But we can’t do this work without the support of members who care deeply about the future of our food supply. Through their own backyard gardens and small farms, our members participate in the seed-sovereignty movement by growing, stewarding, and sharing rare seeds like ‘Big Brown.’

If you haven’t already, won’t you please join us? Become a member of Seed Savers Exchange today and join in the efforts of thousands of seed stewards all over the world who are working to preserve what matters - biodiversity, seed histories, family and cultural traditions. Your membership matters.