Many Seed Savers Exchange supporters know that the organization was founded in 1975 by Kent Whealy and Diane Ott Whealy with seeds from two beloved family heirlooms—the ‘German Pink’ tomato and the ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory. But from the get-go, other individuals were equally keen to save and share heirloom seeds to preserve genetic diversity. Among them was Lina Sisco of Winona, Missouri, one of the original listed members of the True Seed Exchange (as Seed Savers Exchange was known until 1979) and the donor of the beautiful and popular‘Lina Sisco Bird Egg’ bean.
“The first True Seed Exchange newsletter printed a note from Lina Sisco of Winona, Missouri, one of the original listed members:
‘I have been gardening for more years than I like to think about and I do love to raise all kinds of stuff and do lots of canning. I share with lots of people from my garden. So I am sending you two kinds of beans that I raise. The Bird Egg beans have been in my family for many, many years, as my grandmother brought them to Missouri sometime in the 1880s. . . They are all free to you. Hope you have good luck with them. I am sending my quarter and envelope.’
Lina’s Bird Egg bean was offered in the 1979 Seed Savers Exchange, by our son Aaron and others. Here was evidence that the vision of collecting, saving, and distributing heirloom seed had actually achieved what Kent and I had hoped for. SSE had saved a seed from extinction.
Fifteen years after the first newsletter, Becky Silva of Vancouver, Washington, sent a note published in Seed Savers 1990 Summer Edition:
‘I was going through some old Mother Earth News magazines that were given to me and was reading your interview in the 1982 January/February issue which I found very interesting. I had been thinking of some special beans my grandma used to have. Then you mentioned Lina Sisco and her Bird Egg beans. Lina was my grandma! Lina was proud of those beans, which she had been given by her grandmother, who brought them to Missouri in the 1880s. One year Lina sent us some when I was little. I remember being in awe of ‘Granny’s Beans.’
Well, it seems my mom can’t find those beans, and I doubt they were ever planted because my folks aren’t gardeners. I’ve been gardening for three years, but after reading your article, I am quite interested in “heirloom” varieties. And I would like to start with Granny’s Bird Egg bean. Can you put me in touch with someone who’d be willing to share a few? I love Grandma Lina. . . and it would mean so much to me to grow her beans.’
SSE sent Becky some of the beans, now identified as the ‘Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg’ bean. It’s a popular bean for planting, and we also sell it as dried eating beans. I love stories with happy endings.”
In 2014, Toni Gunnison, a 45-year-old gardener now living in Wisconsin, contacted SSE. Toni went to school with Lina’s granddaughters and shared memories of Lina from her (Toni’s) childhood: “I was actually a child when I knew Lina, so my memories of her are a little vague. They’re warm memories, but general. I remember her huge garden, and I remember her having a kitchen that was covered with good food. She always had something to give you if you stopped by. . .The one story I know (and love) is that my stepdad went to Lina’s house one day and said, “Lina, I saw your obituary in the Mother Earth News! But I see you’re still with us.” She said that she’d gotten so tired of people calling her from being printed there that she wrote them a letter saying that sadly, Lina Sisco had passed away. My memories of Lina were that she was a real spitfire, small, but full of energy. She reminded me a lot of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies. And she cooked like you wouldn’t believe. Her kitchen was always, always overflowing with food. She was a great baker.”
How to grow the ‘Lina Sisco Bird Egg’ bean
According to theSlow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, the ‘Lina Sisco Bird Egg’ bean is “an unbelievably aromatic and plump bean; its skin splits open to reveal a creamy, almost potato-like texture.” The maroon-and-tan dry bean is equally delicious boiled and seasoned as it is roasted and salted and served as an appetizer. Here is how to grow this tasty pantry staple:
Like other beans, the ‘Lina Sisco Bird Egg’ bean grows best in full sun, planted in well-drained and warm soil. While pole beans require trellising, bush beans (like the ‘Lina Sisco Bird Egg’ bean) can grow unsupported. Direct sow seeds 2 inches apart at 1 inch deep and in rows 36 inches to 48 inches apart after the soil has reached at least 50 degrees F, but preferably when the soil is 60-80 degrees F.
This story was originally posted on the Seed Savers Exchange blog on Sara Friedl-Putnam. Edited for clarity and accuracy on September 11, 2023.
Stories are what connect us in human experiences, it’s how culture and histories are shared. Explore stewardship stories from varieties in the Seed Savers Exchange collection and learn more about The Collection stewarded by SSE staff at Heritage Farm.