Ready to know more about San Diego?


The San Diego Farmer Quietly Reviving Ancient Heirloom Beans

Known as the Bean Man, Mike Reeske grows more than 20 varieties in Valley Center
San Diego farm Rio Del Rey Heirloom Farms reviving heirloom beans from the past
Courtesy of Rio Del Rey Heirloom Farms

Mike Reeske, the Bean Man, worked in science education for 40 years before devoting his “retirement” to reviving ancient varieties of heirloom beans.

It started in 2008 with a taste bud–popping bite of Red Hopi Lima beans in Tucson, Arizona. With careful organic farming methods on his North County fields, Reeske experimented to find which varieties would grow best (and resist disease) in San Diego’s soil and climate.

Mike Reeske founder of Rio Del Rey Heirloom Farms heirloom bean farm in San Diego

Now, on seven acres surrounding his Valley Center home, Reeske and his wife, Chris, tend (and hand-sort!) Red Hopi Lima, Southwest Gold, Good Mother Stallard, Tiger Eye, Purple Star Tarahumara, Yellow Baja Azufrado, and Tepary beans, to name a few of the 23 varieties cultivated on the farm.

Each bean looks unique— nothing like the uniform red, black, or pintos from a can. Nutritional powerhouse Tiger Eye has a dark brown swirl on a toasty tan background. Tepary beans (which contain 24 percent protein) are multi-colored and mash up into a tasty, textured hummus. Southwest Gold echoes stately spotted horses with golden brown and white patterns almost too pretty to eat.

Rio Del Rey Heirloom Farms featuring heirloom beans like Southwest Gold, Tiger Eye, and Tepary being sorted
Courtesy of Rio Del Rey Heirloom Farms
Reeske and his wife, Chris, sort all 23 types of beans by hand.

Reeske even accidentally developed a new signature bean at Rio Del Rey in 2018: Anazape. Found on the fringe between rows of Rio Zape and Anasazi beans, Anazape emerged when the two varieties were cross-pollinated by bees and hybridized. The Reeskes held a bean tasting with 15 of San Diego’s top chefs, and 13 voted Anazape the most delicious. In fact, chefs are some of the farm’s most loyal customers—Campfire in Carlsbad buys all its beans from Mike the Bean Man.

Rio del Rey Heirloom Farms featuring a dish made of delicious bean heirloom beans
Courtesy of Rio Del Rey Heirloom Farms
The Rio del Rey website offers free recipes for delicious bean dishes.

Reeske’s goal as a small-scale farmer is to share his knowledge and spill the beans so current and future generations can inherit and enjoy heirloom beans. Find Rio Del Rey beans for sale on the farm’s website; at Golden Door Country Store, Jimbo’s, and Cardiff Seaside Market; or in dishes at some of San Diego’s chicest farm-to-table events.

By Leorah Gavidor

Leorah Gavidor won her first essay contest at age 5. She writes features, news, and non-fiction in San Diego.

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA