2019 Indigenous Farming Conference Recap

The annual Great Lakes Indigenous Farming Conference, sponsored by the White Earth Land Recovery Project on the White Earth Reservation was a blast, again!

Here is a recap of some of what I saw and did at the conference.

The seed exchanges are always fantastic at these events (check out the fava bean seed art that one participant made):

And our favorite potato expert, the University of Wisconsin’s Ruth Genger of the Organic Potato Project, brought some of the potatoes she has been growing from seed. She roasted them, and offered a potato tasting.
Since they are all grown from seed, and relatively recently, they don’t have names — the numbers are’t just about creating a blind taste-testing situation. There were several crowd favorites, including this one:

Another highlight was Kevin Finney‘s hominy-making workshop.
(Disclaimer: I’ve never made hominy by myself from start to finish, so this is not a how-to guide, but I’ll describe what I experienced in the workshop.)

We started outside, stirring a pot of corn, water, and wood ash for about an hour — but it was too cold outside for my camera to function. During this time, Kevin periodically checked on the kernels to see how loose their skins were becoming, and whether the germ was separating from the rest of the kernel. Once they reached this stage, we brought the giant pot inside to strain the mixture.

Here’s a close-up of the hominy-and-ash mixture. This brew is surprisingly caustic – when you reach a hand in, you can feel your skin becoming slippery in the same way it does when you touch bleach. This is the beginning stages of it dissolving! Therefore, this strong brew is more than enough to separate the skins and germ of corn seeds from the kernel.

The next step was washing the kernels in water, using this ash basket as a strainer:

We washed it until it was no longer slippery to the touch. From what Kevin said, it will have to be boiled several more times to remove the remaining lye before it is edible. Hominy is a lot more work than I thought, but it’s delicious enough to be worth it!

At another workshop, Sioux Chef Sean Sherman worked with the youth attendees, showing them how to make a snack of puffed wild rice, berries, and maple syrup, which they shared with the rest of us:

And in another workshop, two Indigenous carrot farmers from Canada, one Métis and one Secwepemec, discussed their work. This picture illustrates what they were saying about saving carrots to overwinter, for use in the spring. This is a cross-section of 2 carrots. The one on the left has its growth tip cut into (on the top), but the one on the right is healthy and ideal to save.

Some Bear Island Flint Corn, an Anishinaabe heirloom, in Kevin Finney’s birch basket. I was surprised how much this corn species resembles Mandan Bride Corn. (Underneath is a Haudenosaunee white flower corn he was selling.)

And here’s a pic from the seed exchange! This person had fava beans and several other interesting and unusual seeds. I wasn’t taking many pictures, because I was busy giving seeds away.

One of my favorite part of these Seed Exchanges is when they lead to the rematriation of indigenous seeds to their original owners. I was honored to be able to share some Mandan Bride Corn seeds with Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara) tribal member and ND House of Representatives member Ruth Buffalo.

I also had a chance, during the seed exchange, to share White Buffalo Calf Woman tobacco seeds, which originated on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, with the Tribal Chairwoman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, another of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ bands. It’s always an honor to be able to facilitate getting rare and special seeds into the hands of people whose nations have a long cultural and spiritual relationship with these plants.

Here, Kevin Finney demonstrates the use of a Haudenosaunee corn-planting tool:

Chi-miigwech, phidámayaye, and many thanks to everyone who made this year’s conference so great — I hope to see you again next year!

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