A Gift of Seeds: Two New Colorful Crop Varieties for the UW Farm

~Rae Russell

Last week, I was part of a lucky group of UW Farm interns and volunteers that visited Littlefield Farm; an organic farm in Arlington WA where all of the equipment runs on traditional horse power. Farmer Ryan Foxley gave us a glimpse into a method of small-scale, resilient farming that offers a compelling solution to today’s current fuel concerns by relying entirely on the use of draught horses to work the soil and harvest crops. He also gave us the gift of seeds from two fascinating varieties of crops (that he grows for his family at Littlefield), for propagation at the UW Farm: Painted Mountain Corn and Jacob’s Cattle Beans. In case you aren’t already familiar with these gorgeous plants, here is a brief introduction:

Painted Mountain Corn is a crossbreed developed in Montana by organic farmer Dave Christensen from over 70 Native heirloom corns that once flourished in the harshest climates of the Northern Rockies and Great Plains regions of the US and Canada. Some of these ancient maize varieties are now extinct and their traits continue to exist today only within the Painted Mountain gene pool!

Painted corn is extremely drought and cold tolerant and grows quickly even in conditions that would be inhospitable to other corn varieties. It has been useful to farmers throughout the world who are struggling with worn-out soil and poor resources. We are excited to try our hand at growing it here at UW because it is hardy and fast growing enough to tolerate our short, dry pacific northwest summers, and it produces some truly beautiful ears of corn. Look at those jewel-like colors; this is genetic diversity as it’s most lovely!

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 Jacob’s Cattle Beans are another colorful veggie with an equally colorful history. They have been cultivated in North America at least as far back as the 1700’s and while their origins are not fully known, one legend states that they were originally grown by the Passamaquoddy  people in Maine and were given to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec. Their name refers to a story in the Christian Bible’s Book of Genesis. 

Jacob’s Cattle Beans were once commonly grown but gradually fell into obscurity as more ‘improved’ modern varieties emerged. Happily, due to a resurgence in interest in heirloom varieties, they are starting to become relevant once again.

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Stay tuned on how our two new varieties fare at the UW Farm. You may be seeing some of them in your CSA boxes or at the UW Farm Stand next summer!

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