Native foods – including rare strains of corn, beans, and squash – are being brought back from extinction thanks to the preservation and conservation efforts of indigenous tribes and a seed-lending library.
Members of the Potawatomi and Ojibwe tribes in Hopkins, Michigan have teamed up with the Jijak Foundation to help these rare strains of vegetables make a comeback. These vegetables are now being used in traditional ceremonies.
In Hopkins, Michigan, Native Americans of the Pottawatomi and Ojibwe tribes are bringing rare strains of vegetables back from the dead.
Farmers are receiving help from the Jijak Foundation, which describes itself as a “nonprofit organisation of the Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi Indians dedicated to enriching our community through education, preservation, and perpetuation of our Tribe’s rich culture, arts, history, and living traditions”. The foundation’s seed-lending library is at the centre of the comeback story. Tribes around the Great Lakes region are sharing the seeds of these rare vegetables with each other and with small farmers.
Jijak Foundation’s office is home to the menomineekanin seed library. There are dozens of glass jars on wooden shelves, with native varieties of corn, beans, tobacco, watermelon, and ancient squash. Each bottle of seeds contains key information for the native farmers on how best to plant the seeds, where the seeds come from and family stories.
Seed saving is a long-held tradition, often practiced by populations wanting to preserve culturally significant crops.
Like a seed library lending service, native farmers around the region can borrow seeds. A seed library allows community members to “check out” seeds, use them in their gardens, and harvest and return saved seeds back to the library to be used by other growers the following year.
Developing a seed library can help agricultural and gardening communities become more resilient by providing their own seeds that have adapted to climate and disease pressure in their regions. It also allows growers to acquire new varieties they might not be familiar with.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about sustainable lifestyle and green living for publications, and offers content services to planet-friendly businesses. Find out more at Rosamedea.com