Indigenous Roots of Climate Farming

Traditional land-management techniques practiced by Native American peoples are paving the way for a more resilient future.

“I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up,” Elizabeth Hoover, associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says. “But my guidance counselor — this was the ’90s — said it wasn’t a good idea. So I went to college for a very long time to become a professor who hangs out with farmers and writes about farmers instead.”

Syntropic plantings help fix nitrogen, suppress weeds, and create biomass and nutrients. Photo by Charles Goodin and Mikael Maynard

Hoover is of Mohawk ancestry and is an expert in Native American environmental health and food sovereignty. She notes that Native Americans often have a complex relationship with agriculture. “Many Indigenous communities farmed for generations, and then got interrupted by authorities who push methods that are not only abusive to the environment, but also to the people involved,” she says. “[Conventional farming] is not only bad for the climate, but also bad for people, for the communities living nearby, and the people downstream, because it’s disrupting waterways, creating dead zones … the list goes on.”

At Johnny Appleseed Organic, we’re passionate about transforming conventional farms into carbon-guzzling oases. And although Climate Farming principles have never been more crucial, they aren’t new. In fact, many of the practices we use on our farm today have roots in Indigenous agriculture that predates European settlers in North America.

Foundations of North American Farming Knowledge

“Native people seldom get credit for anything, and often, we’re perceived as primitive or backwards,” says Jane Mt. Pleasant, associate professor emeritus at Cornell University School of Integrative Plant Science.

Mt. Pleasant’s words are disconcerting at best, considering how many of our current-day sustainable and organic agricultural practices originate from Native American methods. Mt. Pleasant is of Tuscarora ancestry and is an expert in Indigenous agriculture. She spoke with us about the origins of several of the principles we use to Climate Farm at our Organic Village near Folkston, Georgia.

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