CN offers heirloom seeds to citizens
By STAFF REPORTS
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The days are getting longer and all good gardeners know that means it will soon be time to start seeds for spring and summer gardens. And once again the Cherokee Nation is offering gardeners a chance to grow a bit of the tribe’s history and culture in their own backyards.
For the past few years tribal citizens have had the opportunity to request heirloom seeds from the CN Natural Resources as part of a seed bank project. The seeds are for plants that have been researched to relate historically to the CN, such as Georgia Candy Roaster Squash, Job’s Tears or Birdhouse and Dipper Gourds. Other species Cherokee Floured Corn, Cherokee White Eagle Corn, Cherokee White Flour Corn, Cherokee Yellow Flour Corn, Red Pop Corn, Rattlesnake Bean, Native Tobacco, Pumpkin Squash and Trail of Tears’ Beads. Most are rare cultivars not widely available through commercial means.
“The qualities that were desired back then, are most definitely more different than the qualities desired today,” Natural Resources Director Pat Gwin said. “You can leave our corn in a bucket for months on end and it will retain a high nutritional value and never lose its freshness. It can also be ground up into flour over the winter months. Whereas if you leave sweet corn in the same position it will shrivel up into nothing and lose all of its attributes.”
Around 2,000 seed packets were mailed to CN citizens throughout the U.S. and beyond in 2011. The Natural Resources staff is gearing up to send out at least that many seeds this winter. The seeds are free, but participating gardeners are asked to help restock the seed bank by sending seeds from their crops to share with others via the seed bank.
“We already have a significant amount of requests for seeds,” Natural Resources specialist Mark Dunham said “And we will start advertising everything we offer and grow on Feb. 1.”
A good variety will be available for request for the 2012 growing season. Beans and some other items will be limited this year due to last year’s extreme weather in parts of the country.
“The heat and drought really diminished our inventories and prevented us from replenishing our seed bank with certain varieties. Fortunately, we had some folks from back east that sent us seeds, allowing us to still be able to give those items away,” Dunham said.
Dunham said one seed the bank this year that it didn’t in 2011 is the Jewel Gourd.
He said the gourds, which measure around 2 to 3 inches in diameter, might have been worn ornamentally by Cherokees for centuries in a similar manner to how other tribes might wear a deerskin pouch.
“You see designs sometimes that show people wearing Jewel Gourds on old Eastern woodlands pottery,” Dunham said.
For more information about the seed bank project, visit the Natural Resources webpage at www.cherokee.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A person may specify up to two seed varieties and are encouraged to include an alternate selection if the first choice is not available. Please include a name, copy of CN citizenship card (blue card), mailing address, and if requesting tobacco seeds, proof of being at least 18.
– Reporter Dillon Turman contributed to this report
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Caidlen Dunham, of Jay, stands in front of Cherokee Colored Flour Corn that she and her father planted. The seeds came from the tribe’s seed bank project. COURTESY PHOTO