If you had to conjure up a picture of what it means to be from Appalachia, you might picture two women sitting outside, stringing green beans and chatting about life.
There’s a natural rhythm in snapping the pods, zipping the strings, plopping the beans into a basket or tub, that speaks to life in the mountains. The struggle, the joy and the circle of community that forms around just doing what needs to be done.
People in need.
Farmers with produce.
Neighbors coming to help.
Somehow, in the sped up, impersonal automation of life in the 21st century, that process can get lost. Which is one reason Manna Meal is hosting its 10th Annual Bean Stringin’ Event, set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Capitol Market.
“It is that throwback to just something that we all, no matter what walk of life we’re in, get to come and sit down and talk to one another and really give back,” said Tara Martinez, executive director of the soup kitchen that feeds upward of 350 hungry people in Charleston every day.
“It’s funny to see all these circular movements. Our people can buy from the farmers, they come here work together with their friends and family to string the beans, and give it back to Charleston members who are hungry,” said Nicole Greene, the market’s executive director.
“It’s just really cool to see how we all support each other, which is kind of like an Appalachian tradition itself, right? This idea that we help our own, we have each other’s backs no matter what and we help neighbors in need.”
The two women were in the shade overlooking the produce and flowers in the outdoor pavilion on a recent day, practicing, as it were, for the upcoming event.
It’s not hard — there are often young children who come to help. But there is a process.
Martinez gave a brief lesson to her Facebook audience.
“Start with one end of the bean, and pull the string through, then do the other side,” she instructed. “Then just kind of snap them in half.”
Last year the event netted more than 650 pounds of beans. Manna Meal is expecting to get roughly 1,000 pounds from this year’s gathering, which features live music and hay bales to sit on. The beans will be washed in giant tubs, then separated into gallon bags and frozen to be used throughout the year, especially the cold winter months when local produce is in short supply.
“It’s just a historic, traditional activity that we do in Appalachia,” said Martinez. “It was my grandma that I did it with.”
Back in the day, the stringing was born of necessity. But like so many things, it served a bigger, deeper purpose. Just like it does today.
“Not only does it give back to our members who are in need but it also gives back to our farmers,” said Greene.
“You’re supporting West Virginia growers by purchasing these beans. You’re stringing them, so you’re participating in this very communal event with your neighbors. And then being able to have a product that goes back to people who need to be fed.”