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Aug 03

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Researching Bear Island Flint Corn at SDI

Koolamalsi,

My name is Adam Schulz and I am a student and Agriculture Research Intern at the College of Menominee Nation’s (CMN) Sustainable Development Institute (SDI). Today I am going to share a synapse of the research project that my partner, Dolly Potts, and I have been working on since last year.

Our research project is growing Bear Island Flint Corn testing three (3) amendments and a control. This is a randomized replication study with each treatment being repeated four (4) times. Our plots are laid out in sixteen (16) ten foot by fifteen foot plots. Each plot contains four sub-rows of corn. Each row has thirty plants. The garden is set up with four plots per row, walking paths between each set of plots, and a two foot buffer zone around the garden.
Our research mimics the use of two of the soil amendments found in the archeological work of Dr. David Overstreet, Menominee tribal archeologist; bio-char and aquatic substance. The third amendment is a conventional fertilizer available for everyday use called Urea. Urea is a nitrogen based fertilizer. Bio-char is made by burning wood down to a charcoal state. It is then raked into the soil. Due to safety concerns, we substituted fish emulsion for aquatic substance.

Fish emulsion is ground up fish and it is available for purchase at gardening stores and online. If one wanted to make their own fish emulsion they would need one part fish or fish guts, one part molasses, and two parts saw dust. First cut or blend the fish parts into a fine mixture, then combine with molasses and saw dust. Store outside in direct sunlight to ferment, stirring the mixture daily. The last amendment is the control, which means nothing added to the soil.

In our research, we use a corn type that Dr. Overstreet found in his archeological digs in the ancient Menominee garden beds. The corn is called Bear Island Flint corn and is commonly associated with the Ojibwa people. The corn is named after an island in Canada where it originated from. Bear Island Flint is a perfect corn to grow in Northern Wisconsin. It has an 85 to 90 day maturity rate that coincides with our growing season. Traditionally, flint corn is a grinding corn used for a wide range of purposes from flour to soup. If it is picked in the green stage, the stage sweet corn comes from, it is very sweet and highly nutritious.

Our seed had over a 90% germination rate. This high germination rate is common of this species and better than the 60- 80% germination rate of common store bought varieties.

The western scientific part of this research project includes collecting and analyzing data on corn yield, kernel size, moisture content of the plants and seed, and differences amongst the four treatment methods. Jamie Patton, Senior Outreach Specialist, and Dr. Francisco Arriaga from the University of Wisconsin-Madison trained us on how to use different soil monitoring devices such as moisture meters, soil probes, and lab equipment. Jamie also showed us how to measure for plant growth, how to examine the corn and decide when it is dried enough to pick, and she provide workshops on soil morphologies. I built data sheets in Google Docs to record various data we collected. Once the year one data was compiled, I got the chance to work with the CMN Mathematician, Harlan Pygman, to analyze our data. Our hypothesis that the bio-char and fish emulsion plots would have the greatest influence on the corn growth and yield was supported by the data.

The inferential data suggested the corn average 30% bigger kernels in the bio-char plots over the other three treatment plots. The data also showed a higher biomass in the plots treated with fish emulsion. We are in the process of repeating the study this year to provide more statistical evidence supporting our ancestral indigenous knowledge.

An exciting aspect of the research project is to present the project at conferences, workshops, and seminars. The first presentation and conference I took part in was the SDI intern report-out in August of 2017. This report-out session provides interns the opportunity to recap their summer projects for the mentors, family, and community members. The second presentation was at the Red Lake Nation Food Summit in Red Lake, Minnesota.

At the food summit we learned about all the food sovereignty projects taking place in Indian Country. Dolly and I shared information on our corn project and meet some new friends who are also growing corn. I meet a Red Lake gentleman named Jack who is growing a Red Lake strand of Flint Corn. Jack taught me how to make hominy corn. I brought this new skill back to Wisconsin and have since made several batches of hominy, including for the planting feast we held at the start of this year’s project at the end of May.

There have been several other national conferences that I have attended and presented our research at. We attended the Native American Nutrition Conference hosted by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Nation. While there Dolly and I attended several breakout sessions with our mentor, SDI Sustainability Coordinator, Rebecca Edler. We also presented our research paper at a two hour poster session. Our posters were also on display for the entire time we were at the conference. Finally, I presented at American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) events in New Mexico and Washington D.C.

This research project has given me the chance to supplement the skills I have accumulated while attending CMN. Furthermore, I have learned a lot of interesting tidbits about corn, research, and the quest for food sovereignty across Indian country. I have learned how indigenous knowledge on food is rapidly supplementing and education western approaches to gardening. I highly recommend our Stockbridge-Munsee Community members looking into all the neat research being conducted at CMN and SDI and consider CMN for your educational needs. Thank you kindly for taking the time to read my report.

If you would like further information on this research project, please contact the Sustainable Development Institute at the College of Menominee Nation at 715-799-6226 ext: 3041 or check out our website at sustainabledevelopmentinstitute@menominee.org.

Permanent link to this article: http://sustainabledevelopmentinstitute.org/2018/08/researching-bear-island-flint-corn-at-sdi/

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