Xandra Uribe: Seed Guardian


A variety of red and black zebra beans.

Paloma Urrea Díez, Discoverer Staff Writer

Xandra Uribe is a Seed Guardian. She is a devoted and empowered woman, dedicated to art and the conservation of the abundant varieties of beans that exist all over Colombia. Her goal is to open people eyes to the magical beauty of beans.

Seed Guardians, La Red de Guardianes de Semillas, are leaders committed to the conservation and protection of traditional seeds from all around the world. In Colombia, Uribe targets beans. Her purpose is to get people all around Colombia informed of the many varieties of beans that exist. Using her artistic and innovative skills, Uribe began taking creative photographs and creating unique jewelry with beans.

According to Wade Davis anthropologist, ethnobotanist, and recognized author of the book One River, “Xandra’s love of Colombia finds its most perfect expression in her passion for edible beans. She loves beans the way birds love the wind and fish relish the sea. She sows and harvests them, savors them as food, serving up astonishing meals, adding new recipes to her repertoire by the day.”

Where it all began

Uribe’s true inspiration comes from a trip she took to Portugal, where she met a woman who had over 20 varieties of beans. “Just as the women opened this cabinet, I saw the beauty in these precious gems. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as a began to explore these beans I realized more how valuable and precious they are,” Uribe said. When she was inspired, Uribe felt encouraged to inspire others as well. She wanted to see if others would get motivated to keep exploring the magical world of these seeds as she did.

Creating Art From Nature’s Bounty

“And she admires their beauty, equating them to precious stones, with language women normally use when swooning over trays of diamonds,” Davis said.

Her methods to portray beans mainly root from photography. When people think about beans, their thoughts go to the traditional black bean, and this is what should be changed.The project includes exploring beans and making them visible to the world, so people fall in love with them. These seeds have been undervalued even though they are rich in many ways,” Uribe said.  She began taking close up pictures of the mostly unknown beans she planted, obtaining the best shots to show their inherent beauty. “I thought, what if you take a picture of a bean and put it isolated from where you traditionally see it in a dish, in a different context. If you take a very close up picture of a bean, you realize the amazing beauty,” Uribe said.

A diversity of bean ‘vainas.’

Continuing with her great love and devotion for beans, Seed Guardian Uribe thought of another way to give beans the value and honor they deserve. She decided to make jewelry using gold. Namely, Uribe uses the ‘lost wax’ technique, an ancestral manual process used to make bronze and gold plated beans. “A friend who is a jeweler taught me the ´lost wax technique. Together we thought it would be amazing to add golden ´lost wax´ beans, that way not only I can create something beautiful, but I can dignify and give more status to beans,” Uribe said. As we all know gold represents value, in other words saying that beans are not just any seed, but a gem for humanity.

Necklace made out of beans with a few
golden beans.
Golden beans created with the ‘lost wax’ technique.

Obstacles to Success

According to Uribe, there are over 38,000 varieties of beans worldwide, and almost 3,500 in Colombia alone. Just in Antioquia, there are over 700 different types. The problem is most people only eat the 8-10 varieties available in most grocery stores. Because large companies are supplying consumers with only a few varieties of beans, people are unaware of the rest. The hardest obstacle is the government. Colombian law 970 prohibits farmers to sell or commercialize any beans that they have not purchased from the ICA (Instituto Colombiano de Agricultura). In other words, farmers can not grow and sell their own beans, limiting them to only grow certain types they are allowed to.

There are too many types of beans, and we can not allow them to disappear just because we don’t know about them. Ask, research, buy, exchange beans, plant, or use social media to create awareness. Now, it is your turn to help. Together, let’s take care of our native seeds.

“Beans are just a tip of the iceberg of the value in traditions and that come from Colombia or the Americans. Beans might be small, but they remind us to celebrate our cultures, traditions, or ingredients. What really makes us Colombian, where we come from and what we have to give the rest of the world,” Uribe said.