The nation’s first farmers were Native Americans. Today, there still are lessons to learn from their efforts so long ago.
While evolution in the farm industry has been a constant — driverless tractors may soon dot the landscape — there’s also value in hearkening back to the earliest days of farming, when Indian farmers mainly produced corn (known as maize), beans and squash.
So it’s been with a Sacred Seed project that’s sprouted up at the Salina-based Land Institute. Sacred Seed aims to preserve plant varieties that date back to indigenous tribes. Those behind the venture see the project inspired by five-year-old Sacred Seed out of Omaha, Neb., as a way to develop alternatives to destructive agricultural practices.
A science-based research organization, the nonprofit Land Institute works to research and develop food production methods that sustain the land and soil, a precious resource in an increasingly precarious situation worldwide. Founded in 1976, the Land Institute’s attempts to preserve those resources are even more timely amid concerns over global warming and climate change.
The Land Institute promotes food production that’s more in step with nature. The Sacred Seed project is one such initiative designed to help build and protect soil, which has the ability to store carbon and combat global warming. Plants can contribute in such a way through their web-like root system, which can serve as a sponge and repository for carbon dioxide, the world’s most prevalent greenhouse gas.
Sacred Seed’s mission centers on two distinct goals: protecting and preserving the genetic diversity of original seeds and promoting local and sustainable agricultural options for healthy food produced in an environmentally-friendly way.
Cherokee White Flour corn is part of the Sacred Seed project in Salina, alongside Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, Scarlet Runner beans, Moon and Stars melons, Lakota squash, Cherokee okra and Arikara sunflowers.
Such combinations are a nod to the “three sisters” of Native American mythology, which includes corn, beans and squash: Beans climb cornstalks and put nitrogen taken by corn back into the soil while squash provides ground cover, using spiky leaves to ward off varmints. There’s also fourth “sister” in sunflowers that break the wind and draw metal from the soil.
Aubrey Streit Krug, director of ecosphere studies at the Land Institute, explained how the Sacred Seed project fits the institute’s goal of developing perennial grain crops that can be grown alongside other plants in an approach known as polyculture farming.
The mix of crops provides an interesting glimpse at American Indian traditions and an ecosystem-friendly approach that stands the test of time.
A look at history can serve as inspiration for the future. Consider the Sacred Seed project interesting food for thought.