Beans, Motherhood, & Business w/ Lesley Sykes

Lesley Sykes is the co-founder of Primary Beans, a dried bean company taking a fresh approach to the sourcing, freshness, impact, and diversity of beans.

How did Primary Beans come to be?

Through my 15+ year career in nutrition and agriculture, I've long understood that beans are the cornerstone of our health and climate-conscious farming. But despite being a perfect food, they're still largely misrepresented in the US.

While traveling the world, I noticed how freshness plays a major role in flavor, texture, and cook times. Countries that enjoy beans regularly (like Mexico and Italy) have a much higher turnover rate. At home, beans are largely "commodified,” limited to just a handful of varieties and stored for long periods of time before reaching grocery store shelves.

I realized that my perspective uniquely qualified me to create a network of like-minded farmers and provide home cooks with flavorful and fresh bean varieties from around the globe. Primary Beans was born out of a desire to celebrate stories from the field and share cooking guidance to show just how easy and satisfying beans are to prepare at home.

It's the hardest thing I've done, but when I see signs that we're shifting people's mindsets about how beans fit into their daily lives, I know I'm on the right track.

What does the marriage of motherhood and business owner look like?

Motherhood is so fulfilling and something I always wanted, yet there are many things I haven’t had the time to accomplish in my business that I would have otherwise. I’m learning to be okay with that and realize it won’t always be this chaotic.

People often make the assumption that I may have more leave given the flexible schedule that comes with being a business owner, but in my case it was really quite the opposite. There is so much to get done when you’re a business owner and even though I have an incredible team that helped support the welcoming of my new family members, it’s still me who responds to customer emails and solves operational challenges, so when I’m not around things mostly come to a halt.

Now that I’m back at work full-time, it’s really all about finding balance and being extremely, extremely efficient. I pack well over 40 hours of work into the 4 days I have childcare, and when I’m with my kids I make a huge effort to set my laptop and phone off to the side so I can spend quality time with them.

What were the first 6 weeks of postpartum like for you?

I’ve experienced being a new mama twice and each time was different. The arrival of my son, Remy, really knocked me off my feet - my whole life was changed! I am a pretty high energy person so taking the time to heal and rest was tough, but little by little things started getting easier and my partner and I got into the rhythm of taking care of a child. The time really did go by slowly and there were so many firsts - first smile, first coo, first tummy time.

Almost exactly 2 years later, I had my daughter, Rio, and postpartum was quite different. The first 6 weeks flew by because I had to keep up with an emotional toddler and I already knew how to be a mom.

For both kids, the strong connection was instantaneous and I feel incredibly lucky because it can be a process for so many.

If you had to name this season of your life, what would it be called?

I would call it “Beautiful Chaos” which aptly describes the typical chaotic state of my house, sleep schedule, and inbox, and the beauty I find in it all when I take pause. I am fully aware that these will always be some of my most cherished times, as chaotic as they may be right now.

What is a meal you have on rotation lately?

Brothy beans! They’re literally the easiest and most satisfying thing I can make for my family (and I’m not just saying that - it’s part of the reason I started Primary Beans in the first place!). All you need to do is throw beans, water, and seasonings in an Instant Pot and let a little time transform the dried beans into creamy decadence. If I have greens like kale on hand, I’ll sautee them with some garlic before folding them in. I love topping brothy bowls with a squeeze of lemon, Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. I use leftovers for rice bowls or burritos (which my 2 year-old son loves!).

Do you have any tips for new mamas to takeaway?

Trust your instinct and don’t over research. We are wired to detect when something isn’t right and that’s more powerful than all the dos and don’ts you can find online.

Also, develop a strong peer network of other mamas whether that’s through your child’s daycare, peer-support groups, or meeting other families at the playground. I’ve found that having friends with children around the same age really helps ease some of the emotional stress of being a mom - something I’m definitely going to lean on throughout this journey.

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