Rare Native Seeds

One woman is honored to have the first heirloom garden in her community containing Cherokee native seeds passed down from an elder.

Marilyn Konstanty And Beans

Marilyn Konstanty will use the ‘Black Pawnee’ beans she preserved to make a traditional “leather britches” soup in the fall.

PHOTO: MARILYN KONSTANTY

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS’S Garden Essay Contest, titled “Why We Dig Gardening,” prompted many responses — here is one of our favorites!

My gardening experience started with a small box of native seeds being placed in my hands by Momfeather Erickson. Short in stature but big on dreams, this Cherokee elder chose our family to put out the first heirloom garden for Mantle Rock Education and Culture Center, in order to grow seed stores for the Cherokee community. The rare seeds came from archaeologists and tribal members.

Our Amish neighbor broke the virgin clay soil with his two horses. To enrich the soil, we added composted yard clippings, vegetable scraps and manure. Gardening organically called for learning how to furnish the plants with proper nutrients while keeping weeds down and bugs under control.

We anxiously awaited the first sprout and carefully recorded the day it emerged, comparing each type of bean, squash, pumpkin and corn. Eventually, my husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to share rare vegetables from our garden with our community — ‘Miami’ butter beans, ‘Trail of Tears’ runner beans, ‘Banana’ muskmelons, ‘Omaha’ pumpkins, ‘Black Aztec’ corn and ‘Pawnee’ popcorn. Momfeather Erickson will use the ‘Black Pawnee’ beans we strung (see Image Gallery) to make a feast with traditional “leather britches” soup this fall.

On Sept. 5, 2005, I sit in my cabin with 15 boxes of native seeds ready for next year. At this point we have tasted, canned, strung and preserved our seed. This was more than I expected!

I now have a true understanding of why people dig gardening.

Marilyn Konstanty
Marion, Kentucky