One Small Voice
by Laura McGaffey
Articles originally published in "The Voice in the Desert"

Bonita Bean Company
May 2006

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I dropped in on the Bonita Bean Company on Kansas Settlement Road one day and bought a small bag of locally grown pinto beans. Manager Bill McCarter gave me some recipe ideas and I used my crock pot to prepare some soup and the beans were excellent! So I went back to get a tour of the facilities, take some pictures and tell you a little about how they deliver such high quality pinto beans to market.

First, some background. The Bonita Bean Company facility has been a bean processing plant since the late 1980’s although the Haas brothers, Brent and Tedd, only bought it in late 1997. The Bonita Bean Company is located southeast of Willcox on Kansas Settlement Road, in Cochise County, Arizona.

They process 6-7 million pounds of locally grown pinto beans every year. The beans are triple-cleaned and very fresh when shipped; they are never more than 12 months old which reduces their cooking time. Bill McCarter and Tamara, the office manager, showed me some “standard brand” bags of pinto beans to compare with their Bonita Bean Company beans and the difference in quality and color is readily apparent; the fresher the bean, the lighter the color. I have tried cooking those “standard brand” beans according to the directions on their bags several times and been very disappointed. I’ve always chalked it up to a lack of culinary skills on my part. Now I can attest to the difference in the result when one starts with a fresher bean. (Hmmm. Where have I written about that concept recently? See “Coffee Robusta or Coffee Arabica” in the March 2006 “One Small Voice” column.)

The day I toured the facility we were having high winds in the Sulphur Springs Valley. Tumbleweeds and huge dust clouds blew everywhere. Yet just inside the large doors to the cleaning plant and warehouse everything was very well organized and, well, clean.

As mentioned, the beans are triple-cleaned and sorted. The process is automated; a series of machines pass the beans through the cleaning and polishing steps. Then men bag the cleaned beans and put them in the warehouse. Beans that have broken in half or are otherwise not whole are referred to as “splits” and are sold to canners to cook them into especially fresh and smooth refried beans.

You can buy Bonita Bean Company beans in the office at the processing plant in bags as small as 3 pounds and as large as 50 pounds or more. Bonita Bean Company sells most of their beans to grocery stores in Arizona, California and Mexico with the majority going to stores in Arizona. If you get a chance, drop in and say hello to Bill and Tamara and ask them to give you a tour of the bean cleaning facility. It’s really quite fascinating. Their phone number is 520-384-2811.