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June 09, 2011

A Garden Grows on the National Mall

Spring planting talk
Zia Pueblo farmer Peter Pino leads a blessing ceremony at the museum's annual spring planting (Photo by Katherine Fogden, NMAI Photographer).

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.

Spring planting wide shot_SmallPeter 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.

Three Sisters
Fresh corn at the community garden at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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.

Three Sisters_Capitol Building The community garden at the National Museum of the American Indian.

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.


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This is a great idea, which I blogged about last year when I visited: http://agro.biodiver.se/2010/10/the-museum-of-the-american-indians-native-crop-garden/.

This is really great idea. Utilize vacant land for farming is really great idea. Perhaps this could be one way to green the world.

This blog looks cool. Thanks for sharing such a cool idea.

Yes, I have to say that this is a great idea. Utilizing the vacant land into something useful is great. This could be a learning to other people that we can plant in a big city. Don't care how big the land is we can turn it into something good.

This is a great idea. Bringing people together to truly learn how to heal the earth, sustain themselves, not rely on government and remember where they came from. Very Cool!

I just wrote an article about the endangered American bittersweet. It's so important to educate each generation about the importance of care in our environment.If you are looking for other gardening resources or inspiration, I author a new (ad free) ‘how to garden’ blog for beginners, enthusiasts and pros - You are invited to explore my site, Gardens Inspired.~Debra

I love this project and truly think that it is worth the time everyone puts in.

Working with the nature is an important thing that everyone should do and teach their kids!

Definitely a garden that's one of a kind.

Hi Molly Stephey,

This is an great idea. Utilizing the vacant land for farming is really good. It's a one way to help a nature and green world.

Yes, it's extremely amazing! I really love planting garden grows :)

Great Idea!! i love the fact your using vacant unused land to grow a garden for food!

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