It's easy to tell when it's corn-roasting day at the small white
farmhouse that serves as home to the Iroquois White Corn Project
(IWCP) at Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, NY. The wonderful
earthy aroma wafts through the farmhouse as IWCP Manager Kim Morf
(Mohawk) and a couple of volunteers carefully watch the hulled white
corn spinning in a large coffee roaster, transforming into a rich,
roasted brown color.
Ganondagan State Historic Site has been home to the Iroquois
White Corn Project since 2011. It was brought there by Site Manager
Peter Jemison (Seneca) after the original project, the Pinewoods
Community Farming at the Cattaraugus Reservation, went dormant after
the passing of its co-founders, Drs. John Mohawk (Seneca) and his
wife, Yvonne Dion-Buffalo (Samson Cree).
"Mohawk and Dion-Buffalo created the IWCP with the vision and
desire to bring our corn back as a staple of the Haudenosaunee (Six
Nations, or Iroquois) diet," notes Morf. "They were very concerned
about Native nutrition and the diabetes epidemic among our people.
For them, the IWCP's goal was to return physical health and spiritual
nutrition to the Ongwehonwe (Real People)."
At the height of its success, the corn products produced at
Pinewoods were in-demand by top chefs nationwide for their taste,
versatility, and nutrition. The gluten-free corn is also non GMO,
high in protein and fiber, and has a low-glycemic index.
After the corn is husked, it is braided traditionally and
hung to dry through the winter in a corn crib before use.
Photo: Laticia McNaughton
These same attributes are key to the success of the IWCP, which
is overseen by the non-profit Friends of Ganondagan organization.
As was done by the Haudenosaunee for at least 1,000 years, the corn
is grown without chemicals or pesticides, then picked, husked, braided,
shucked and washed by hand in traditional ash splint baskets. The
concept of "A Good Mind" is also omnipresent at the IWCP, understanding
that the positive energy and intent put into the corn will be passed
onto those who eat it, continuing the cycle of loving energy.
Good Mind: Everyone who works with the corn comes to it with
"a good mind," meaning that the positive, loving
energy we put into the corn will be felt by those who eat
it, and they in turn, will pass it along to others. Photo:
Three productsHulled White Corn, White Corn Flour, and
Roasted White Corn Flourare available for sale at the Farmhouse,
through the Iroquois White Corn website, at local Finger Lakes area
Farmers Markets, and select retailers and distributors.
Products: The Iroquois White Corn Project sells three products:
Hulled White Corn, White Corn Flour, and Roasted White Corn
Flour. Photo: Laticia McNaughton.
The Hulled White Corn is a star in soups, stews, casseroles,
salsas, salads, and in any recipe calling for hominy or beans. For
White Corn Flour, the hulled corn is stone ground into a medium-
to fine-grind flour and works as a delicious corn mush and in recipes
using regular corn meal, corn flour, or gluten-free flour in baked
goods. It is also used successfully as a flavorful and nutritious
thickener. The Roasted White Corn Flour is created when the hulled
corn is roasted, imparting a rich, nutty flavor, then stone ground
to a medium-grind flour. Its taste enhances numerous baked goods
like cookies, breads, muffins, as well as pancakes or in recipes
calling for regular corn meal or flour, as in a coating for fish
for Doneness: Once the hulled corn is roasted, we test for
doneness by color, assuring the best possible product we can
provide. Photo: Amy Blum
The IWCP is constantly adding to its online recipe collection,
and encourages the community-at-large to try out the products and
send in their own recipes at www.iroquoiswhitecorn.org/recipe-box.
For generations, the Elders have taught the importance of food,
families, and their connection. "Elder Joan Longboat (Mohawk)a
traditional herbalist and healerteaches that 'eating the right
foods, eating slow food
keeps our body in balance,' " says
Morf. "Longboat recollects that the old people used to say 'your
food is medicine' because it's so full of vitamins and minerals."
Ken Parker (Seneca) is director of Food Is Our Medicine, a partnership
between the Seneca Nation of Indians and the Seneca
"Our White Corn was the staple food of our community. It is
an ancient heirloom and a true reflection of the Haudenosaunee and
the Seneca cultural identity. Corn in the Northeast most certainly
predates European settlement. It is well documented by the Europeans
during the Revolutionary War of how vast the cornfields were and
the great skill the Seneca's exhibited as a sophisticated agricultural
society. We now understand better the high nutritional value of
our White Corn. The process of using wood ashes to break down the
seed coat actually aids in the release of niacin, an important protein,
and calcium as well. As an agricultural society, beans and squash
were a very important component to the Haudenosaunee and this made
for a complete and essential diet."
Sisters Salad: The hulled corn is perfect for use in any recipe
calling for beans or hominy. Here, it is a tasty and nutritious
addition to a salad, along with the beans, squash and other
ingredients. Watching over the salad are the three sisters
cornhusk dolls, made by Ganondagan's Ronnie Reitter (Seneca).
Photo: Laticia McNaughton
Parker notes that more than 60% of our global food crops are
of American and Native American origins. These includes: potato,
sweet potato, sunchokes, tomato, beans, squash, sunflower, pumpkin,
peppers, strawberry, blueberry, cranberry, pawpaw, ground nuts,
pecans, black walnut, hickory nuts, maple sugar & syrup.
the corn products are picked, husked, braided, hulled, washed
and packaged by hand, as did the Haudenosaunee ancestors.
The labor-intensive process is important in quality control
and respecting the ancestors. Photo: Amy Blum
Organizations like the Iroquois White Corn Project help bring
awareness and public education about the importance of white corn
consumption. "Just as important is to educate about traditional
preparation, and highlight the innovations the Iroquois community
has made in growing White Corn over the generations," continues
Parker. "The general public is completely unaware of our history
and how the Europeans and their wars changed our corn history. Their
impact is still felt by the Senecas today, as roasted corn is a
traditional meal. This is a reflection of when General Sullivan's
army burned our cornfields."
Parker's remarks have particular resonance with Ganondagan.
The 17th-century Seneca town of Ganondagan ("Town of Peace") was
a successful farming community inhabited by up to 4,500 people.
In 1687, seeing the Seneca as a threat in the profitable Fur Trade,
a French army under the Marquis de Denonville marched from New France
(Canada) toward Ganondagan to destroy it by burning down the corn.
The people fled to nearby locations but never returned to the town.
Nearly a century later, the corn was again destroyed when Generals
Sullivan and Clinton were ordered by General George Washington to
burn a number of towns in the Finger Lakes area.
It is not lost on anyone visiting or working at the Iroquois
White Corn Project that, more than 300 years later, the corn finally
is back where it belongs.
More information on the Iroquois White Corn Project as well
as Ganondagan can be found at www.iroquoiswhitecorn.org.