Erin Brethauer

Picking Beans til dark

Posted in Farming in the Blood, North Carolina, Uncategorized by erinbrethauer on July 14, 2009

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From the ‘Farming in the Blood’ series I’m working on:

Honley and Alma Etherton rarely sit down when work remains, especially when the fields of their Madison County farm are lush with vegetables. But after 47 years together working the land — and nine hours of picking beans on a recent Tuesday morning — they need a break and some cool air.

They set down eight half-bushel baskets, step inside their home and lean back into their easy chairs in front of the air conditioning.

“This sure does feel good,” sighs Alma Etherton.

But the day is not done. They picked three rows that are 300 feet long, but 75 feet remain. After a short rest, Honley grabs empty baskets while Alma dons a sun hat and walks to the spot where they left off.

“There aren’t many 66-year-old women you would find doing this work,” muses Honley Etherton. With the bean row between them, they sit on camping stools to save their backs as they pick.

They sell some of the half-runners at a roadside market and in Marshall, but Alma Etherton keeps four bushels for canning.

After adding another 20 minutes to nearly five decades in the fields, they leave the rest of the row for tomorrow.

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