Learning from the Past: Haudenosaunee, Corn & the Secret Teachings of Plants

Learning from the first communities: ‘People of the Longhouse’

This was the title of one of the workshops I attended this year at the Guelph Organic Conference.  Led by Rick Hill (Tuscarora), an indigenous educator and coordinator of the Deyohaha:ge: (Two Roads) Indigenous Knowledge Centre at Six Nations Polytechnic.  It focussed on the approach and worldview that has guided six nations gardeners through the past, into the present, and undoubtedly will continue to into the future.  Rick spoke of the processes by which women in the community would select the best seeds for planting, for their medicinal qualities, through communicating with the plants, and what traits were selected for specifically in corn seed.

This touches on a matter made largely accessible by author Stephen Harrod Buhner, especially in his book the Secret Teachings of Plants, whereby the author presents a somewhat radical view of the heart as more than a mere pump, but an organ responsible for maintaining the bio magnetic field that surrounds us, regulating hormones, and essentially, an organ of perception.

It was refreshing to hear these teachings in an institution so renowned for its sharp and often deadening intellectualism.

Rick made an interesting point, stating that in his peoples` language, there is no way for someone to say “I grow corn.”  Instead someone would say something along the lines of “I place a corn seed in the ground.”  This difference speaks to the inherent wisdom and magic encapsulated within each seed, and the fact that as gardeners or farmers, we are merely participants in an intricate dance.  As Thomas Berry would say, “We are human only when we are in contact and conviviality with that which is non-human.”


The genetic diversity of corn is simply amazing.  We need to support small growers who are preserving the diverse genetics of such an amazing plant, and at the same time, subverting the global trend towards mono-crops, mono-cultures, and silencing that goes along with those “mono-trends.”

People often ask me what I feed my chickens, and specifically they want to know “do you feed them corn?”

Well, I do feed corn, but I`ve done the best job I can.  I source my feed from two farms, one is from Gerald Poechman, a certified organic farmer near Hanover.  He has to constantly keep an eye on what his neighbours are planting to minimize cross-pollination between his certified organic corn, and their GE corn.  I also get feed from  5-Star Seed near Chesley.  While not certified organic, these farmers also do their best to keep corn away from neighbouring corn fields as to prevent genetic contamination.

Its a sticky business when nearly all of the neighbouring corn farmers are growing genetically engineered corn, but by supporting family farms that are able to keep a wide buffer zone around their corn fields, I`m doing the best I can.  In addition to corn, the chickens`ration is mixed with oats, barley, buckwheat, wheat, roasted soybean meal, and organic mineral supplements – as well as weeds, bugs, and all the other stuff they can find.

Some other interesting facts about corn…

Did you know that indigenous cultures used to soak corn in hardwood ash before cooking.  A process known as nixtimilization unlocks important vitamins and nutrients, and imparts medicinal properties (remember, food as medicine…).

Following the holocaust of the Americas, African slave populations who were fed a diet of mostly corn which had not beeen “nixtimilized” would soon suffer malnutrition, much to the confusion of their exploiters.  European settlers couldn`t understand why some people could subsist so healthily from a diet high in corn and others became ill, weak and diseased.  For a more in-depth explanation of nixtimilization, check out Sandor Katz`s Wild Fermentation.

christmas day 018

Here at the farm I`ve been doing alot of hiking and snowshoeing, testing out my new root cellar (its working great!) and enjoying warm soups full of garlic, onions, leeks, and sweet roots!  Mmmm mmm.

Don`t forget to check out the poll on the previous post, What Kind of Farm do you Want?

Stay warm,


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