Land as Teacher: Three Sisters Plot
by Molly McCaulley
At the F.H. King farm this summer we have a “three sisters plot”. In this plot, we have planted beans, squash, and corn using an indigenous cultivation technique known as companion planting, or inter-cropping.
The idea comes from Iroquois growing history and knowledge, which sustained them both physically and spiritually for much of their food history. The Iroquois are from what is now the northeastern United States, where many European colonists first settled and displaced the native peoples. This rich cultural and ecological technique, rooted in the land and knowledge of the plants, taught the Iroquois a valuable lesson in sustainability, resilience, and relationship through this cultivation technique.
When planted together, they grow in balance, in a reciprocal relationship. The corn offers the beans support. The beans draw nitrogen from the air and replenish the soil for her sisters and hold her sisters close to each other. The squash and her generously large leaves provide protection and shade, keeping the land cool and preventing weed growth. Together the corn, beans, and square nourish themselves, humans, and the land in a healthy relationship.
Nourishment of the human body is even supported by these diversely nutritious crops. On a biochemical level, “maize provides carbohydrates and some amino acids; beans provide the rest of required amino acids, as well as dietary fiber, vitamins B2 and B6, zinc, iron, manganese, iodine, potassium, and phosphorus, and squash provides Vitamin A. Together, they make a great succotash.” (Hirst, 2019)
Their balance and relationship reveal a key truth about the wider future about sustainability: learning and collaborating in different ways which encourage each other fundamental in new approaches of agriculture and sustainability. By cultivating an intellectual three sisters plot with traditional indigenous knowledge, scientific knowledge, and the wisdom of the land and the plants themselves, we can cultivate a mindset evolution.
In a synthesis of complementary knowledge bases, revolutionary solutions will be born. Just as biodiversity promotes resilience and biological evolution, so does intellectual diversity promote cultural evolution.