Ramona and Terry Button began farming in 1974 on a ten-acre allotment near Sacaton, Arizona, on the Gila River Indian Reservation. Their first crops included barley and alfalfa; the Ramona Farms line of products has since grown to include wheat and corn products, black eyed peas, garbanzo beans and Tepary beans.
Ramona’s father, Francisco ‘Chiigo’ Smith, was an O’dham farmer who grew traditional crops such as corn, chiles, Tepary beans, gourds, wheat, squash, sugar canes and melons on the same ten-acre allotment that the Button family farms now.
Ramona’s mother, Margaret, was a traditional healer and herbalist. Together, they taught Ramona the importance of nutrition and the impact traditional foods have on the Native way of life. Ramona and Terry run the farm and Ramona and her daughters Velvet and Brandy work on marketing, giving community presentations and demonstrations on the products. The Button family is most well known for their Tepary bean crops.
In the late 1970s, the Buttons discovered a jar of white and brown Tepary bean seeds in a large trunk in the house Ramona grew up in. The seeds were left behind by Ramona’s late father. At this time, the Tepary bean was hard to find on a large scale.
Local farmers and gardeners were growing the bean, but one could rarely find them in stores or online. After encouragement from local elders, the Button family used the leftover seeds to attempt to reintroduce Tepary beans back to the community and make them more accessible to consumers.
According to the Ramona Farms website, the family was able to begin with just a few of those seeds of each color and learn how to produce the beans on a small scale. Once the family perfected their production techniques, they developed the bean project into a larger enterprise.
Today, the Buttons market the Tepary beans in the local community and surrounding areas. The Tepary beans are available in white, brown and black and in various package sizes.
The Tepary bean has deep roots in the Gila River community. It has been cultivated for at least a thousand years by the Natives of the Sonoran desert, the Akimel O’odham and Tohono O’odham people. The Tepary bean is believed to be the world’s most drought tolerant bean; they are grown along the Gila River with limited irrigation or rainfall. The bean is also high in fiber and protein with a low glycemic index, making it a healthy addition to any diet.
“They’ve [Tepary beans] been a part of the Native people’s way of life for many, many years,” a Ramona Farms office staff member said. “It’s an important piece of history in the Native community.”
Ramona Farms has a commitment to serving the community in various ways. For example, Ramona and her daughters do community presentations all over Arizona. They also visit local schools to teach students about their products and traditional farming processes. Ramona is actively involved in teaching the youth of the community about the products of their heritage that they otherwise would have never known about.
The farm currently employs about 18 people, all of whom are local members of the community. Community members interested in learning more about the farm may stop by and visit, but are asked to call ahead in advance.
Learn more about Ramona Farms and the products at www.ramonafarms.com.