This past Saturday at our Farmers’ Market, we hosted Bob Graham, a professional storyteller. He was gracious enough to share this story with us..
The Three Sisters
“According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American forming societies, is a sophisticated system that provided long-term soil fertility and healthy diet to generations.
Corn, beans and squash were among the first important crops domesticated by ancient Mesoamerican societies. Corn was the primary crop, proving more calories or energy per acre than any other. According to Three Sisters legends, corn must grow in a community with other crops rather than on its own – it needs the beneficial company and aide of its companions.
The Iroquois believe corn, beans and squash are precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each watched over by one of three sister’s spirits, called the De-o-ha-ko, or Our Sustainers. This planting season is marked by ceremonies to honour them, and a festival commemorates the first harvest of green corn on the cob. By retelling the stores and performing annual rituals, Native Americans passed down the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the Three Sisters through generations.
Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot with nitrogen for the following year’s corn. Bean vines also help stabilize corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crop chances of survival in dry years. Spindly squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. The large amount of crop residue from this planting combination can be incorporated back into the soil at the end of the season, to build up the organic matter and improve its structure.
Corn, beans and squash also complement each other nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates, the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds.
Native Americans kept this system in practice for centuries without the modern conceptual vocabulary we use today, i.e. soil nitrogen, vitamins, etc.. They often look for signs in their environment that indicate the right soil temperature and weather for planting corn, i.e. when the Canada geese return or the dogwood leaves reach the size of a squirrel’s ear.
I gleaned this information from an article by Alice Formiga, American organic gardener.
Wan Naa kee”
“I am a great believer in not only looking to our past for guidance but listening to those that came before us for understanding. I have been told that the telling of stories is really the oldest profession. A very interesting such story is the following and it captures just how advanced our people of the first nations are and were. I hope you will take the time to reach out for these stories and pass them on by storytelling to the ones you love.”
- Bob Graham
Bob returns to Simcoe Organics Farmer’s Market on Saturday August 25 at 10am to share stories with adults and kids!
Simcoe Organics Farmer’s Market | 87 Laguna Parkway, Lagoon City, ON | 9am to Noon | Every Saturday until Labour Day