Christine Loft-Jones planted the seeds of her annual corn harvest in anticipation of the Full Flower Moon on May 26.
“There’s a whole teaching about planting by the moon cycles,” explained the Kahnawa’kehró:non. “One of our beliefs is that the light of the moon helps to pull on the seeds, which help them to grow.”
Drawing on traditional teachings shared with her throughout the last decade, Loft-Jones carefully scattered blue corn kernels from the community seed bank in her backyard garden this spring.
“Over time, you start exchanging your seeds with different people, and it helps to make the crops grow better and stronger,” she said. “I got around 100 corn from the seeds I planted, and I was so amazed at how beautiful each one of them came out.”
Loft-Jones is among the handful of community members who put their name down this year to plant the seeds of native crops collected and stored through the community garden project.
While the garden that is collectively cared for by Kahnawa’kehró:non was used for growing white corn exclusively this season, Raven Swamp, who leads the seed bank saving aspect of the grassroots project, explained that calico corn (also known as Indian corn) and blue corn were given to six local gardeners.
“We wanted community members to plant these seeds so that we could revitalize them since they have been in storage for a few years already,” said Swamp. “The whole idea is to have the seeds adapt to the climate since it’s ever-changing due to climate change.”
The seed kit prepared by Swamp also included insightful tips and tricks for gardeners to apply to their practice.
“Everything that I know I learnt through traditional teachings,” she explained. “It was all just through learning from my family what was passed down.”
Taking on the role of greenhouse facilitator at Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ionterihwaienstáhkhwa elementary school is a new opportunity for Swamp to further engage youth from nursery age and upwards. “Starting this year, I’ll be sharing the traditional planting practices that I was able to accumulate through my experience with my family and give that to the students at the school.”
As a community initiative centred around Kanien’kehá:ka values, each participant agreed to return half of what they harvested to the seed bank.
“This reinforces the reciprocity that’s traditional in our culture,” expressed Swamp. “The idea is that we want to continue to plant and save our traditional seeds.”
“We call them kanen’on:we – which means the ‘seeds of our people,’” she added.
Everything collected is to be stored for the community to use as is needed. With a lifespan stretching as long as seven years, Swamp explained that this initiative will continue as a method to ensure Kahnawa’kehró:non can continue to grow traditional foods that are acclimated to new conditions.
“We want to make sure that our community will always have a way of being sustainable in terms of food security and food sovereignty,” she said.
As important as adapting the seeds to environmental changes, this must also come with a change in each gardener’s individual practice.
“While I usually try to grow crops using natural (rainfall) water, I found this year was much too dry,” recounted Loft-Jones. “There’s definitely been a change in the climate in the last 10 years, and that’s why it’s important to keep the seeds up to date so that they can be conditioned to the changes.”
When she picked up her first raised garden bed in 2010, Loft-Jones had just moved into a new home with her husband and baby boy. There began to grow a passion that expanded with each garden box added to her backyard. “Every year, I would find that I needed more space, so (my husband) would build me another one each time,” she said with a laugh.
It wasn’t until 2017 that Loft-Jones decided to create a space dedicated to growing corn. “The first corn I ever grew came from the seeds I got from my father-in-law in Onondaga – I was so proud when I first showed him what I was able to grow,” she recounted.
From her first harvest of Tuscarora white corn to her latest blue corn yield, Loft-Jones continues to carry with her knowledge first passed down many moons ago.
“Having that connection with the garden is what teaches you and allows you to put all that you learn into practice,” she expressed. “In my journey to learn more about myself, my language and cultural journey, this became a huge part of it.”
Laurence Brisson Dubreuil, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door