Last week, Noland Johnson pulled the season's final crop of tepary beans from the piece of desert he farms on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, about 120 miles southwest of Tucson.
The beans look a little like a flattened black-eyed pea. The white ones cook up creamy. The brown ones, which Mr. Johnson prefers, are best simmered like pinto beans.
As late as the 1930's, Tohono O'odham farmers grew more than 1.5 million pounds a year and no one in the tribe had ever heard of diabetes. By the time Mr. Johnson got into the game four years ago, an elder would be lucky to find even a pound of the beans, and more than half of the adults in the tribe had the kind of diabetes attributed to poor diet.
While researchers investigate the link between traditional desert foods and diabetes prevention, Mr. Johnson grows his beans, pulling down 14,000 pounds this fall. Most will sell for about $2.50 a pound at small stores on the reservation.