At the early age of twelve I was a working girl. Instead of working the streets, I worked the soybean fields. With a pair of tweezers, a Dixie cup and two carpet squares I went to work for just over $3.00 per hour.
For seven summers I clocked in early each day at Funk’s Seed Hybrid Company. In the morning we walked soybeans and in the afternoon we pollinated soybeans. For those city folk, walking beans meant we weeded acres of soybean fields with a sharpened hoe.
In the afternoon we pollinated soybeans. The purpose of hand pollination was to control the soybean plant crosses and create a soybean hybrid with strength and resistance to disease.
The romancing of the soybeans started with a quick session of speed dating. The crew boss created a list of male soybean rows and a list female soybean rows that required a relationship and romance coach. With tweezers in hand, I trotted off to the male row, also known as the pollen parent, and picked a Dixie cup full of small purple or white soybean flowers. This was a quick and aggressive process and a gentle hand was not required.
The true finesse began with the female row, also known as the seed parent or the mother plant. I placed my carpet squares down in the dirt and lowered into a sitting position, straddling the chosen female soybean plant. I examined the plant nodes for a ripe and bulbous bud. My voice lowered and my touch became gentle because the ladies were just that, ladies. With my tweezers I peeled back the sepals, the outer layer of the bud, to reveal the inner folds of the flower. My tweezers grasped the soft base and wiggled it free to expose the fragile sweetness of the awaiting pistil. From my Dixie cup, I selected a flower and stripped away the petals presenting a stamen heavy with pollen. With a steady hand, I gently, so very gently dabbed the tip of the stamen on the tip of the female’s stigma. With a quiver, the pollen would release and cover the female’s womanhood with its sticky residue. I cooed, “take it baby, take it!” hoping my words would encourage fertilization. A week later, I checked all my pollinations to see if my manual mating was a success. My goal was to create the highest number of successful unions each summer. During harvest time, we hand collected the soybean offspring and planted them the following year for scientific testing.
I’m not embarrassed of my seedy past. For seven summers I sat in the dirt straddling soybeans. I blossomed from a child to a young woman. I learned about life. I created life. Some folks called us bean pimps. Maybe we were, but I felt more like a matchmaker and a cultivator of connections. I was a soybean artist.