MFSI traditional foods project receives invaluable support from local farmers, Kerr Center
By Stephanie Berryhill, Cultural Preservation/Cultural Food Policy Specialist
WILSON COMMUNITY -- A Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative effort to help revitalize Indian pumpkin and safke corn is receiving immense physical support from local community farmers and Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
The project, funded by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, was initiated out of concern for losing Mvskoke foodways because produce, such as Indian pumpkin, is grown only by a very small number of local, elder farmers today. Safke corn has limited accessibility through retail grocery stores in Okemah, Okmulgee, and Sapulpa, although with decreasing sales of this corn it may no longer be profitable for the wholesale supplier, Shawnee Mills, to make it available.
Barton Williams, Wilson Community farmer, has planted the Indian pumpkin for the project from a “pass-along” seed variety that was obtained from long-time Hanna farmers Ray and Maxie Howard. Howard obtained it from a local Mvskoke woman well over 40 years ago.
Another Wilson farmer, Jim Guynes, has grown an open-pollinated, white corn variety that is readily available from seed suppliers and will be tested for use in safke cooking as part of the project. Luke Fisher, Slick-area organic farmer, has also grown a couple of open-pollinated, white corn varieties that may be good for use in safke. Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative gave Fisher the very few seeds that he grew out and are still searching for a source to acquire a similar variety. The priority for use of seed that has been grown out by Fisher will likely be saving, rather than consumption, until enough seed amounts can be securely maintained for distribution to local tribal people that want to grow it.
George Kuepper, Kerr Center sustainable agriculture specialist, has been working with Mvskoke Traditional Foods Project Manager Stephanie Berryhill, to identify other corn seed varieties that may be suitable for growing in the Oklahoma climate and for use in safke cooking.
Kuepper has offered his expertise to the project under the Resilient Farmer Program of which Berryhill is also a program participant. The Resilient Farmer Program addresses the needs of farmers who are interested in using organic farming methods, which reduce off-farm purchases and labor while building soil fertility and minimizing weeds, insect pests, and plant diseases. The project assists farmers to implement the elements of bio-extensive design -- one of the key elements of a bio-extensive system includes winter cover crops. The program will provide cover crop seed, oats and crimson clover, be planted after the Indian pumpkin is harvested.
The Mvskoke Traditional Foods Project is responding to the loss of tribal foodways through efforts to grow Indian pumpkin and safke corn. Other goals of the project include the establishment of a seed bank for Indian pumpkin and safke corn and working with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Food and Fitness Policy Council to garner support for farmers that grow traditional food crops. An Indian pumpkin seed saving and cooking class and two other classes, safke and cvtvhakv cooking, were held early in the year at Wilson Indian Community Center. A safke seed saving class will be held in the fall at Wilson Indian Community Center. For more information, contact Berryhill at (918) 759-0817.