On June 11th, the day after a rare tornado touched down just a few miles away, about a dozen farmers participated in a unique field day to learn about the history of Iroquois White Corn (IWC) and efforts to restore this staple of the Haudenosaunee people’s diet at the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, New York. Peter Jemison (Knowledge Keeper and Heron Clan member of the Seneca Nation of Indians) and manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site, along with Kim Morf (Mohawk), manager of the Iroquois White Corn Project led this event along with NOFA-NY staff Paul Loomis and Sondra Gjersoe. After a brief introduction Peter lead the group down a trail to the field where the corn is planted. The fields were still very well saturated from the rains that occurred the night before.
Peter gave the history of the corn and its importance to the Haudenosaunee people. The heirloom seed they are using dates back to at least 1,400 years ago. Iroquois White Corn (IWC) was a staple food of the Haudenosaunee, supporting a Ganondagan town of up 4,500 people in the 17th century. Over a trade disagreement the French destroyed 500,000 bushels of corn, forcing the Haudenosaunee from their lands.
The IWC has deep symbolic meaning for the Haudenosaunee people and it is a healthy non GMO, low glycemic, gluten free food that has been consumed by the Haudenosaunee people for thousands of years. Revitalizing the white corn production revitalizes tradition and health for the community. The finished dried ears of corn are impressive, with kernels twice the size of today’s corn.
Peter explained although they use some more modern implements, the deep culture and traditions still remain. Three ceremonies must occur before the corn is planted, thunder, sun, and rain. Peter went over the traditional Three Sisters planting of corn, beans, and squash. The stalks of the white corn are very robust, easily supporting a crop of pole beans, which also feed the earth nitrogen. The squash subdue the weeds and act as a living mulch, keeping the ground moist for the corn and beans. The spiny nature of the squash leaves also act as a deterrent to deer trying to nibble on the corn. All the seeds used on the project are open pollinated heirloom seeds.
We opened up a discussion for the different types of cover crops, and the purpose of each one. Clover and legumes for nitrogen fixing, buck wheat for weed suppression, tillage radishes for deep soil aeration. The group discussed possible cover/forage crops to keep the deer from off the corn. Deer eating the corn has been somewhat of a trying issue. The group discussed many ways to possibly alleviate the issue through electric fencing, and hunting, nuisance permits, dog hair, dogs, etc. Many of the attendees were very helpful with many great suggestions.
The group then made its way back to the farmhouse where we were able to try this wonderful corn in a cold salad and in cookies with the roasted corn flour. The group sat in the kitchen as Kim began to move into the processing portion of day. Like the plantings, many of the deep rooted traditions are very important part of the processing. Kim explained the importance of bringing a “good mind” and that people are not to process the corn with negative energy for that will be passed on to who consumes it.
The corn is dried on the stalks, then husked and braided for long term storage. The hulls of the corn kernel are indigestible, so each kernel must be removed from the hull. Kim went over the several methods including using wood ash and pickling lime. Within the dining area lies a large roasting machine which they use in the making in their roasted corn flour. Conversations continued as Kim answered many questions from the interested attendees.
There is a great energy surrounding the IWC project and the people involved in the project. It is amazing project for a very healthy, traditional food. IWC can be found in many local grocery and specialty stores, at area farmer’s markets and even on-line!