Human Beans: A Bean Supper Series
The infamous bean supper, the glue of the social fabric of Maine. The origin dates back to the days of the pilgrims, and has remained in existence ever since. The tradition is still very much alive today, although it has evolved over the years. Take a drive through the beautiful Maine countryside, and you will encounter a number of signs out front of churches promoting a Saturday supper. While beans were historically the star of the show, chicken and turkey pies have replaced the sweet, creamy, and nutritious baked beans. It’s true that beans have not always had the best rap, which can be largely attributed to the gas they’re known to create. They also take time to prepare, especially when using dried beans. On the other hand, they are affordable, nutritious, and can be stretched far, making them an ideal meal for feeding a community.
We were inspired by the Maine Bean Supper and the opportunity they present to get members of the community together in communion with one another. Given our passion for beans and free community meals combined with our experience preparing Latin-inspired bean dishes, we reached out to members of the community in the hopes of finding community leaders who would help turn our idea into a reality.
We were lucky enough to earn support from Margo Lukens and Karen Sieber with the UMaine McGillicuddy Humanities Center and the amazing Debe Averill. While Margo and Karen agreed to financially support the meals and promote them, Debe agreed to volunteer her time and expertise in meal planning, preparation, and execution. Next on the agenda was finding a location to host the five suppers. That brought us to Steffi with the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono. After a quick pitch about our idea, Steffi checked the calendar and quickly pencilled us in.
Now the fun was ready to begin! We created a traditional menu based on the Americas, which included: Maine, New Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba (see menus below). Each meal would feature a different bean, and the fifth supper would be a voluntary potluck in order to promote the versatility of beans. Once the menus were set, we reached out to various community members, growers, and grocers to acquire the goods. We also wanted to incorporate an educational component to the meals, which meant we had to lock down at least five presenters.
Just about a week before the first meal, we had checked off the majority of the tasks we needed to complete in order to host a successful series of bean suppers. One thing we put off for the last minute was volunteers. We needed at least 10 volunteers in order to provide guests with an enjoyable experience. While we relied on our network of friends for the first meal, we were able to recruit approximately 25 volunteers for the remaining meals.
All in all, the Human Bean Series went off without a hitch and boy did we learn a ton along the way. When things were all said and done, we ended up feeding approximately 400 guests, and were able to send guests home with leftovers and any remaining food was donated to the UMaine food pantry (Black Bear Exchange). Guests were also able to enjoy presentations from farmers, community activists, academics, students, and a historian with the MDI historical society (see a list of presenters and menu below).
Most importantly, the community of all ages and backgrounds loved it! We hope that the series will live on in some capacity. Perhaps beans will continue to be the star of the show, or they will give room to their beloved sisters, squash and corn. No matter what happens, we are amazed with our community and the result we were able to achieve, thanks to the contributions of countless folks! We are incredibly grateful to everyone who played a role in making the series a success. We look forward to hosting future bean suppers and are always willing to provide guidance to folks who wish to host their own!