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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Twin Falls man known as ‘father of the sugar snap pea’ leaves legacy of three-generation family business

By Mychel Matthews Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)

TWIN FALLS – Chefs go nuts over his peas.

Calvin Lamborn, father of the sugar snap pea, lived, researched and bred peas amid obscurity on a few acres outside of Twin Falls.

Lamborn died Aug. 19 at 83 at his home in Twin Falls, after a short battle with leukemia.

“I’ve known him a long time — since 1980,” said Rob Johnston, founder of Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine. “I can’t say that I knew him well, but I knew him well enough to have a great appreciation for his talent and how great a person he was.”

Johnston spent time with Lamborn and his wife, Bonnie, at their home and small farm in Twin Falls, where Lamborn continued his work until shortly before his death. His last crop of peas was in the ground in June when he was diagnosed with cancer; his family finished harvesting the seed crop Monday.

“Calvin was an agricultural engineer,” Johnston said. Lamborn engineered machines for bean varieties that required post-harvest treatment. He also built a motorized cart that he could ride through a field without disturbing the plants.

“A lot of his plant breeding utilized his engineering skills,” Johnston said.

Lamborn was looking for a way to straighten Chinese snow pea pods when he came up with his most noted achievement, the sugar snap pea. Snow peas typically have twisted and distorted pods, which he considered a flaw.

At the time, he worked as a plant breeder with research botanist Mel Parker for Gallatin Valley Seed Co. in Filer. Parker introduced Lamborn to a rogue — or mutant — garden pea with a tight but inedible pod he had discovered some years before. Lamborn crossed the mutant with a snow pea and in 1969 got a pea plant with a sweet, thick-walled pod. After 10 years of selective breeding, the sugar snap pea made its public appearance.

Lamborn went on to name his sugar snaps after the women in his life: the Sugar Bon Snap Pea named for his wife, the Super Sugar Mel for daughter Melanie, the Sugar Rae for daughter RaeJeanne, and his most popular snap pea, Sugar Ann, for daughter Ruth Ann.

He received All American Selections awards for the sugar snap pea in 1979, for the Sugar Ann in 1984 and for the Kentucky Blue Pole Bean, a cross between Kentucky Wonder and Bush Blue Lake, in 1991.

Rogers Brothers Seed Co., owner of Gallatin Valley Seed, was purchased in 1997 by Syngenta Seeds, and Lamborn — at 63 — was let go when the company downsized.

“So he became its competitor,” Bonnie Lamborn said.

The Lamborns started their family-owned business Magic Seed Inc. on a few acres east of their home south of Twin Falls.

“When we first started, Calvin was the plant breeder, the planter and the harvester,” his wife said Monday. “He did everything — but occasionally I drove the tractor.”

The business grew and has since expanded its seed research and development operation onto a neighboring field. Three generations of Lamborns now run the business.

His son Rod, a cinematographer from New York City, plans to head the company toward producing an entirely edible pea plant. That’s what the chefs want, he said.

“It was very important to Calvin to have his family involved,” Bonnie Lamborn said. The two married nearly 55 years ago.

He was a quiet man — “tall, dark and handsome” — with a subtle sense of humor, she said. “But put a nickel in him and ask about peas. He’d talk all day.”