Visit A Native American Garden

Visit A Native American Garden

Part of Ep. 1203 From Distant Shores Pledge Special

Shelley Ryan visits the Tsyunhehkwa Project in Oneida, learning about the importance of specific plants to the Onieda Native American nation.

Premiere date: Jul 21, 2004

Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Ted Skenandore:
Hi, my name's Ted Skenandore.

Don Sharnon:
And my name's Don Sharnon.

And we're here at Tsyunhéhkwa, in Oneida, Wisconsin, today which is an 83-acre farm. It's organic. And we grow white corn. We also do beef, chickens and we have many herbs that are available for sale here. One of the main things that we grow here on-site is called "three sisters mounds," and that's the corn, the beans and the squash. And it all goes back to the creation story, when the sky woman was falling, she grabbed at the surrounding earth. And she grabbed all of the seeds that would make it necessary for us to provide life for ourselves here. And that goes back to the name again, Tsyunhéhkwa, it means "it provides life for us." And the way we plant our three sisters mounds, which relates to the corn, bean and squash, again, is first we'll make a mound. Then, we'll take the corn seed and we'll plant that first, and get that a head start. And as it starts to come up, we'll plant our bean seeds. And we like to plant them-- We'll put four of each. I like to use the four directions, the north, south, east and west. Then, next to the corn, we'll put the bean seed. And that will actually trellis around the corn stalk. So, we use that as a natural trellis. And then the third thing we'll put in is usually only two squash seeds. And we'll use that as a border along the outside. And that's, again, for two reasons. One is for the mulching. It will over-shade, and it won't let any of the plants grow up around it. And then, the other reason is to keep down the raccoons. The have hands like us, and they don't like to walk across these prickly things. So, what we'll do, as squash is growing, we'll take that and we'll wrap that around the mound, so that they won't want to come and get our corn. And our squash is called the Oneida Hubbard Squash. And it's one of the sweetest squashes that there actually is. Some people actually make it into a pie, like a pumpkin pie, only it's a squash. It's very tasty. The beans here are also open pollinated. This is one type of a bean. It's called a pole bean. And it's a Mohawk bean. And this is one of the beans that we used in our three sisters gardens. There was actually a village called Corn Planter's Village. And this is one of the types of beans that is brought out of that village. We also grow this. These are all heirloom beans. So, everything here-- normally, we like to use a pole bean, so that it can grow around the corn and use that as it's trellis.

Don Sharnon:
Iroquois corn is very important to us, not only as a food staple, but it's our health. It's our basic food element. In my particular history, I have a real happiness about corn. Polly Cooper was a relative of mine that was living around the time of George Washington. And she was Martha Washington's maid. And with that contact, the Oneida people were able to supply corn, beans and squash to Valley Forge, during that winter of Washington's troops. And that was very important to me. And so, that's why I have a direct affinity towards the corn today. With Iroquois white corn, the species of corn itself, I'm not sure why it happens this way, but there's an unusual high level of protein available to people through eating white corn. And at this point, it's somewhere around 17 or 18 percent of white corn can be deemed protein. Now, I realize there's some thousands of products that come from corn, but to have more protein available for the human health factor is really important to us, to gain our community's health back, through moving away from, let's say, more less nutritional foods and moving back to more nutritional foods.

We dry down all our corn. And this is one of the ways we use to dry it down, is all braiding and hanging it. And so, after it's dried down, these are a couple of different types of ways that we use our corn. And this one is called the corn bread. It also has the beans in it. And then, this is the corn soup. And it also has the corn and beans in here. And this one happens to have some meat in it. Not all of it has meat in it. There's a few different varieties. Some have turkey. This one in particular has pork. And then there's some with just only beans and corn. Each year, we have an opportunity to do, let's say, a traditional harvest of our white corn. And our heirloom white corn is about 110-day corn, so it's a little chess game in the spring, and it goes a little bit late in the fall. But that's okay, 'cause as you may have imagined, what it used to be during the heightened days of agriculture, when the entire community would come out to participate. It's almost to that scale. We had, oh, anywhere from 200 to 300 people come out for that six days. And we had a large tent, and we pick it by hand. And there's circles of braiding and husking. And people bring their own potluck lunches and wares, and pies and things. So, it makes it very inter-generational, and very connecting with the history of why we're here, and what we're doing with the harvest. That's probably the highlight of our year, is the harvest time. It's really a good time. I suggest you come out and see us.


Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.


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