Tuck into a pot of good fortune this New Year with a tradition born in the South, starring beans grown in the North. Enjoy this month’s On The Table recipe for beans and greens.

This is a web original article from the team at MyNorth Media and Traverse Northern Michigan. Want to read recent print stories? View our print subscription and digital subscription options and have Traverse delivered to your door or inbox each month.

For those of us who live nestled in farm country, certain growers become household names at the dinner table. We know which farm stands are our first choice for arugula, tomatoes, even pork. But when it comes to legumes, is there a favorite farmer who comes to mind? Michigan is the second largest producer of dried beans in the country, and yet, many of us can’t name an area farm that offers them. Beans have historically been grown in the thumb region of the state by massive commodity farms where the equipment that is needed to harvest and package them is more economical at a larger scale. But climate-conscious farming experts are starting to understand the role that locally farmed beans will play in regional food security, and this previously overlooked category is beginning to emerge Up North, at micro-farms such as Empire’s Bluebird Farm and Gardens.

Photo by Dave Weidner

“The structure of milling and processing legumes and grains is more focused on processing at scale,” says Bluebird’s Austin Weed, who, with partner Chelsea Loomis, started growing beans as a source of vegetable protein. “We wanted to do beans because we were eating less meat,” Weed says. Today, the duo dedicates 15 percent of their 1.5 planted acres to heirloom varietals such as yellow Arikara, maroon-streaked Tiger’s Eye, black and white Wolverine’s Orca and a deep-blue flecked pinto-style bean known as Brighstone.

I especially love eating beans in January—not only because many vegetables grown here on the 45th parallel have long since expired, but also because my Southern friends eat them on New Year’s Day. Throughout the American South, it’s considered good luck to eat black-eyed peas with collards to usher in the new year. Black-eyed peas don’t grow especially well this far north, but the custom works with any bean, especially Bluebird’s Brighstone. I don’t know about you, but these days I’m willing do whatever it takes to ensure a little good luck. If eating a hot pot of locally grown beans is all that’s required, I’m all in for making this a daily thing instead of an annual one.

Photo by Dave Weidner

Photo by Dave Weidner

New Year’s Beans and Greens Recipe 

Makes 8 cups

What you will need: 

  • 12 ounces dried Brighstone beans, crowder beans, black-eyed peas or other pinto- or cowpea-type beans
  • Half a bunch of kale, about 8 stems or 6 ounces
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus more for finishing
  • 1 smoked ham hock, about 1 pound
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 32-ounce carton of chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A few pinches of cayenne or Aleppo pepper
  • Kosher salt and flake salt, to taste

Photo by Dave Weidner

Photo by Dave Weidner

Photo by Dave Weidner


  1. Sift through the dried beans, discarding any stones. Place the beans in a large bowl, cover generously with water, and set aside to soak overnight. The next day, rinse and drain the beans.
  2. Strip the tender leaves of kale off each stem, tearing into bite-sized pieces. Set the leaves aside for finishing the dish. Working crosswise to shorten the fibers, finely chop the stems into small quarter-inch pieces.
  3. In a large Dutch oven or pot set over medium heat, add 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Once the oil is hot but not yet smoking, place the ham hock in the pot. Sear each side until the fat is released and the pork skin is browned in places, a few minutes per side. Tip the hock on end and move it to one side of the pot to open up more available surface area on the bottom of the pot. Add the chopped kale stems, onion and celery and cook, stirring from time to time, until tender, about 5 minutes. Fold in the garlic, cooking until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans, stock, and bay leaf to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the beans are fork tender, about 40 minutes depending on the type and freshness of your beans.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and add cayenne and Kosher salt to taste. Working gently to avoid mashing the beans, fold in the kale leaves, carefully tossing the mixture until the heat from the beans and broth wilts the kale. Leaving the hock and bay leaf behind, spoon the beans into equal portions, serving them for a light lunch or side, atop rice for a more hearty entrée, or even placed on toasted bread rounds using a slotted spoon and offered as an appetizer to pass. Finish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and flake salt.

Stacey Brugeman is a 20-year food and beverage journalist. Her work has appeared in Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure, Saveure, Eater and on Instagram @staceybrugeman.

Dave Weidner is an editorial photographer and videographer based in Northern Michigan. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram @dzwphoto.

Sarah Peschel is a stylist and photographer with an appreciation for all things related to local agriculture, food and drink.

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner