Wednesday, 21 June 2017 00:00

Beyond Canada 150: The Three Sisters

Long before Confederation or the arrival of colonial ships, North America was home to diverse, abundant and resilient local agriculture systems developed and cared for by Indigenous Peoples. Among these systems were the Three Sisters.

three-sisters-beans-corn-squash

Long before Confederation or the arrival of colonial ships, North America was home to diverse, abundant and resilient local agriculture systems developed and cared for by Indigenous Peoples. Among these systems was the powerful combination of beans, maize and squash, known as the Three Sisters.

Grown together, these three crops are a holistic gardening system. Each plant contributes to the other's growth. Maize stalks provide a pole for beans to climb. Squash plants cover the ground with their long tendrils and broad leaves, preventing weeds and shading the soil, keeping it moist. And beans pull nitrogen out of the air, exhaling it into the soil and naturally fertilizing the other crops.

The Three Sisters keep each other strong, the soil fertile, and humans healthy. Eaten together, they are a nutrition powerhouse – corn for energy, beans for protein and fibre and nutrients like Vitamin A in squash.

In the last 200 years we have lost so many of the varieties of these three crops that Indigenous farmers so carefully stewarded. Today, we are seeing a comeback thanks to the work of seed-saving Indigenous farmers who have kept their seed and farming knowledge alive despite so many challenges.

Where does the term "Three Sisters" come from?

Many people today may plant these three crops together without knowing they are the Three Sisters. In Iroquois tradition, the Three Sisters are part of the creation story, sprouting from the grave of Sky Woman's daughter to feed the sons she left behind. They eventually would feed all of humanity.

Read 1548 times Last modified on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 21:36

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We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.

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