A Garden Grows on the National Mall
Museum director Kevin Gover recently helped First Lady Michelle Obama and a group of local Native American children harvest spring crops from the White House's community garden. But our director isn't the only one at the National Museum of the American Indian with a green thumb.
Last month, a group of us gathered outside the museum on a gorgeous Monday morning for the annual spring planting, a tradition that began in 2009 when our colleague Glenn Burlack (Lumbee) launched the Indigenous Farmers Program, which brings Native American farmers to Washington, D.C. to share their horticultural and spiritual traditions on the National Mall.
That first year, we welcomed members of the local Piscataway bands and the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina to plant tobacco. Since then, our homegrown tobacco has been used in repatriation ceremonies and as gifts to visiting tribes. It has even traveled to South America, where Burlack, a descendant of Lumbee tobacco farmers, offered it to shamans in Brazil and Peru.
Peter Pino (Zia Pueblo), far left, works with Mitsitam and museum staff to plant tomatoes, green peppers, corn, beans and squash during the annual spring planting (Photo by Katherine Fogden, NMAI Photographer).
This year, we invited Peter and Stella Pino, a Zia Pueblo couple from New Mexico, to hold a blessing ceremony and lead the planting of tomatoes, green peppers and the "Three Sisters" -- corn, beans and squash -- in the museum’s landscape. Staff from our popular Mitsitam Cafe pitched in.
The crops, which will be harvested at the museum’s Living Earth Festival the weekend of July 22-24, were donated by Bonnie Plants, a nearly 100-year-old company that provides herbs, flowers, shrubs and vegetables to gardens big and small across the U.S. The fresh vegetables will be used during the festival's live cooking competition between Mitsitam Cafe chef Richard Hetzler and Don McClellan (Cherokee), the executive chef at Atria Vista del Rio in Albuquerque, N.M. The rest will be used in a variety of dishes at the Mitsitam Cafe.
One of the most spectacular (and unique) features about our museum is its landscape – an exhibition unto itself that includes a waterfall, a pond and nearly 150 species of plants representing four habitats indigenous to the region: an upland hardwood forest, lowland freshwater wetlands, eastern meadowlands, and traditional croplands.
Like the delicious dishes from the Mitsitam Cafe, the museum's landscape allows visitors to understand indigenous culture and contemporary life in a way that traditional exhibitions do not. With the annual spring planting and the Indigenous Farmer’s Program, staff and visitors alike are given the opportunity to get outside and rediscover our connection to the land and the food we eat.
To learn more about the museum’s landscape, outdoor sculptures and audio walking tours, click here.