The Tarbais Bean – Local and Legendary

coat of arm Bigoree FranceI love a good cassoulet. It's a comfort food that warms my soul, and anything that does that I hold in high regard. So, when my friends at The Framed Table posted about a quick preparation of this classic of French cuisine, it was here that I learned about the Tarbais bean. While I love to cook, and French cuisine is a favorite of mine, I don't cook it. That's what French bistros are for. I didn't know an authentic cassoulet required these tender morsels from the land of Bigorre, an area in the southwest region of France. It all started to come together, food, a local ingredient with a history and traditional, and it came from a garden. It's a perfect match for me.

While researching, I came across this blog post about the bean. It's a fascinating read, and I'm going to highlight a couple of key parts. The first;

The first French bean to be granted of Label Rouge, in 1997, Tarbais Beans are famed for their extremely thin skin, which makes them easier to cook and gives them an unbeatable, delicate flavour.

The Label Rouge created in France in 1960 by the  Agricultural Orientation Law guarantees a product has superior features compared to a similar product. In response to the industrialization of poultry farming, French poultry farmers started the process to get this law passed.

The second part I want to highlight is this;

Favourable soil The land of Bigorre is known for its light, silt-laden and rather stony soil, with a somewhat acid PH and little clay. Too much clay would thicken the seed peel and make the bean more floury. The plants benefit from the gravel of the Pyrenean mountain streams, which store up warmth during the day and release it during the night.

Suitable climate The type of soil is not enough to explain the distinctive qualities of the Tarbais Bean. In fact, the same seed, grown in identical conditions on very similar soils in other areas (Petites Pyrenees, alluvial terraces of the Garonne...), do not produce the same quality.

Bigorre is where the oceanic influence of the Gulf of Gascony meets the continental effects of the region of Toulouse : the resulting pleasant climate is a determining factor in the character of the Tarbais Haricot. Our area is free from the drying “devil’s wind” (the Autan); instead it benefits from the temperate Föhn, which comes from Aragon and grows gentler as it crosses France.

One of the many things destroyed by the industrial food complex is the loss of quality in food including the subtle influences of locally grown food. French poultry farmers realized that industrialization threatened this quality, and their livelihood. They addressed this to the government in 1960, which responded, while America embraced this industrialization.

After reading about the subtle differences that the local soil and climate have on the authentic Tarbais bean, I saw an opportunity for content. As regular readers know, I look at my life as a story I write everyday. With that in mind, I look for opportunities to present themselves as content. I could have left this as a stand alone post, however that wouldn't be much fun. So, I found a source of Tabaris seeds, and will order them today. I'll grown them here in southern New Jersey, and get some authentic beans to compare and contrast. It will also challenge me to cook a cassoulet. Stay tuned.

In Her Own Words, Why a Social Business

photo jars of foodI'm pleased to have Anea Botton, founder of Valley Girls Foodstuffs as a guest blogger today. Welcome, Anea! I met Anea at The 2nd Annual National Heirloom Festival where we both were vendors. I loved her red glasses, her brand image, and once I got to know her and the folks from Valley Girls Foodstuffs, I was very impressed with them and their mission. Since the expos, a lot of great things are happening for them, and I'm sure there will be more updates as they grow.

I thought that a personal account of why an entrepreneur would choose to build a local business with a social purpose would be a good compliment to the recent three-part series about Lavazza, an international company working with a social purpose on a global scale. Anea was kind enough to agree to my request to write this post, and here is what Anea has to say, in her own words.

Sometimes we do things because we feel called to them. Sometimes we do things because we just plain like doing them. And sometimes we do things because we can’t imagine NOT doing them.

Valley Girls Foodstuffs has a little of all of those things bundled up in its origin. Since 2009 I have volunteered at the Valley of the Moon Teen Center, part of a non-profit in Sonoma that offers life skills programming. I’ve been a business owner since 2008 in this small town where I live and grew up when I opened my own insurance agency. In 2009, I wanted to be more involved in my community somehow, and I fell into cooking dinner once a week to a mostly Hispanic population of teens at the teen center. The mother of a toddler, I didn’t have much experience being around teens, and the Hispanic teens at this location brought with them the requisite practiced bravado and unwitting innocence that I remembered from my own days as a teenager. But this group had a particular air of something else I couldn’t put a finger on. And I didn’t realize what it was until I’d spent some time being around the kids.


When you see people who live in conditions you yourself have never experienced, it’s hard to know what, exactly, you are dealing with. There were so many stories, big and small things, and they began to coalesce into an understanding of what it means for kids to be “at risk.” It’s so many things - financial hardship, family issues, lack of education. It’s one or a combination of those things. And for the harder hit, the ones with parents who are missing for one reason or another, the deck seems to be stacked exponentially against them. I’m not a social worker and I have no background in social reform. I only know the things I’ve seen working with and around these kids.

Some of the kids come from really large families with 6 or 8 kids living in 3 bedroom houses, loving homes of limited means. These kids have a strong sense of family and tend to stay out of trouble, do well in school, and not affiliate with a gang. But they have little money and few skills. They go to the teen center after school mostly to partake in the life skills programs offered there, to socialize and to eat food they don’t have to share with siblings.

More kids have bigger problems. I saw a 16-year old boy (who had 2 jobs while going to high school, with a live-in girlfriend and a baby girl at home) get beat up in front of the teen center one afternoon. My heart skipped several beats and I froze while the director of the teen center, a woman, chased away his assailants and picked him and his glasses up off the ground in front of the teen center. The director told me later it was all over his “color.” I thought she meant his skin; he looked no different than any of the other kids. She had to explain she meant gang colors. And there was the time I overheard a young girl crying, whispering about how the night before her mother and aunt had dragged her by her hair down the street where she lived because of something she’d done. A few weeks later I learned she was in foster care in another town, trying to figure out how to get back to Sonoma to see her boyfriend. And there was the boy who had to pick up his dad from bars at night, the father drunk and railing in Spanish, while his son held him up and walked him home. And the girl whose dad was in prison and whose mother had been through a series of boyfriends, men who it was rumored had touched her in ways that we call inappropriate. None of these kids are angels; they often use foul language and posture in ways that looked ridiculous to me. But they are kids and it makes me wonder what my life would be had I been exposed to even a fraction of what they deal with daily.


I look at many of the kids at the teen center and I know I can never fully understand their situation. I’m not going to change their world and I probably won’t change many of their lives in a huge way. But I can still do something, and that something is Valley Girls Foodstuffs. While it is a new and small business, it attempts to address a piece of the at-risk culture in my hometown by employing some of the kids I met while volunteering at the teen center. I teach them preserving skills like canning, drying and fermenting as well as baking. We use surplus and “less than perfect” produce that would normally be passed over by more aesthetically inclined shoppers, but which is perfect for preservation. I am not making enough money yet to cover all of our costs, but I didn’t expect to, not so soon. And while we cook, we talk about food system issues, we talk about business, we talk about our lives.

One of the things I have seen in founding a food business with a social purpose is that I must carefully consider each decision and weigh it not only on its merits from a business perspective but also on its merits within a food and social equity context. I am not building the next cell phone app nor creating a singular food product that fills a niche market. The kids are learning usable skills, they create a plethora of delicious products from produce people might otherwise let go to waste and they get paid for the work they do. They are learning how to run a for-profit business when most people might go the non-profit route because I believe it’s important to teach kids the benefits of working for their money so they don’t have to live in a manner that leaves them beholden to anyone.

Sometimes we do things because we feel called to them. Sometimes we do things because we just plain like doing them. And now that Valley Girls Foodstuffs is up and running, I just couldn’t imagine NOT doing it.


Awe Inspiring, First Thoughts about the Forum

It's been a couple days since I returned from the Growing The Applachian Food Economy forum, and it's going to take me a while to process all the great information. I was in awe of what going on in Asheville, and the energy, passion and commitment to innovation I saw the event.. First thing, Asheville, North Carolina is a great place. They have been working on the local food economy for 20 years, and they should serve as a model for the rest of the country. It's not a perfect system, and they will be the first to acknolodwde that. They know their challenges, and they embrace them. They are constantly looking for innovation and collaboration. Mistakes and failures are looked at a lessons to share so they are not repeated. At the funder's panel luncheon, collaboration was noted as a key element in consideration for grants. The focus is on developing the community as whole, while encouraging entrenuers to start their businesses.

They have a Buy Local program that demonstrates the community's commitment to success. It's everywhere, and most noticible in the restaurants. The local farms are listed, and people know the local farms and the farmers, local breweries are noted, all 12 of them, and so are local bakeries. The downtown area has an independent art supply store, an independent hard craft supply store, a spice store, a chocolate store, a fresh potato chip store, numerous coffee houses and tea houses, Not to mention art galleries, and hand crafted artisan products such as a custom belt and sandal shop. And, a general store that's been around since to 1880s.

The demonstrated success of the 12 breweries is bringing a Sierra Nevada brewery to the area.

As I noted, this local food economy has been 20 years in the making. The forum was sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commision.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Established by an act of Congress in 1965, ARC is composed of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair, who is appointed by the president. Local participation is provided through multi-county local development districts.

What was very impressive to me was the infastructure and cooperation that's in place to support the local food economy. The North Carolina state goverment is also very proactive in supporting their farmers. Yes, there were complaints about burdensome goverment regulations at all levels, but from what I saw, there were advocates who worked the complaints as means to an end. That being a succesful outcome for the community.

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, ASAP, is another example of  the support to the local farmer and community.

ASAP's Vison

Our vision is of strong farms, thriving local food economies, and healthy communities where farming is valued as central to our heritage and our future.

ASAP's Mission 

Our mission is to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food.

This is a beloved organization. And, from talking to people, rightfully so.

Than there's Mountain Biz Works. They offer lending services, consulting services and training services.

A common theme that I heard through out the forum was that for too many years resources were extracted from Appalachia and that was it. Because of that, now there is deep commitment to use the assets that exist there in Asheville, and Appalachia. Their assets are the land and the people. They recognize that working the land, and caring for it, sustains the economy, and the people who rely on it. The know it builds a strong community, and allows a local-based economy to be realistic.

It starts with a commitment, and being open to new ideas. That's one of many points that I took away from this forum. The commitment started 20 years ago in Asheville, and an infrastructure is in place to support the innovation and vision they have to succed and sustain.

Next up, I'll highlight a business incubator and common use kitchen in the Asheville area, and a community kitchen in West Virginia supported by a family of Farms.