Most summer weekends, you can find Aracely García Aleman and Julio Molina behind a table at 23rd and Mission Street, shelling beans. Their truck nearby, piled high with bundled branches of red, black and green beans last Saturday morning, had nearly been depleted of its cargo by the next day at 1 p.m.
The unshelled beans sell for $20 a bunch and produce about 3 pounds. It’s a bargain, but if you don’t want to do the work, García Aleman and Molina will do it for you at the price of $12 a pound.
They work at a pace that gives them time to chat with the Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Mexicans who approach their table. Last Sunday, García Aleman, who, like her partner, is 52, listened as one group discussed whether they should buy immediately, or wait until the end of their excursion through San Francisco.
It was not the first time she’d heard this debate. For the last two years, the Salvadoran couple has been selling beans in the Mission, beginning their weekend on Friday when they leave home near Modesto and drive 68 miles to Hayward to fill their truck. Another laborer harvests the beans in Santa Maria, a town just north of Santa Barbara.
After paying for the beans, a tank of gas and two nights at a hotel in San Mateo, says Molina, they can make about $600 a weekend.
They do this through the season that begins in July and ends sometime in October. Off-season, Molina returns to landscaping and construction; García Aleman says, “I become a housewife.”
The couple met four years ago in a Facebook group, bonding over their shared experience growing up in Sensuntepeque, a small town northwest of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Already, their children were grown and out of the house. “My youngest is a teacher,” says García Aleman proudly, adding that she looks forward to soon becoming a citizen.
“I want to vote,” she says. In the meantime, she’s made a good life with Molina and the bean season has become part of that life.
Molina shakes his head at some of the situations they find themselves in selling beans. Their customers, he says, can be picky, and he tells me the story of one who sat down to shell her own beans. “Right there,” he says, pointing nearby. When she found a green bean in the bunch, she got upset. “She started to take some from another customer,” he says. “It was so embarrassing. I had to explain everything.”
You won’t find them at their corner this weekend, as García Aleman returned to El Salvador last Sunday night for a brief family visit. Earlier in the day, she pointed to her suitcase in the back of the truck. It’s stuffed with gifts. “Something for everyone,” she said.
It’s a short visit. By Thursday, she’ll return with her mother, and by next weekend, the couple will likely be back shelling beans at 23rd and Mission.