By Haley Rylander
In the Northeast corn, beans, and squash are a familiar trio. These traditional companion plants are native to the Americas and have been grown together for thousands of years. At the Seneca Nation’s Gakwi:yo:h Farms in Collins, New York, rows of Iroquois white corn are strewn with the blooming purple flowers of shelling beans and the soil is covered with the crawling vines of squash. A short walk away are rows of raspberries, blueberries, elderberries, and currants. A few towns over, a herd of nineteen bison grazes the grasslands.
The Seneca philosophy of agriculture is ideal for soil health. Natural rotations of legumes, grains, and vegetables in different botanical families help cycle nutrients in the soil and have different rooting depths. Perennial berry shrubs hold the soil in place and allow organic matter and aggregates to build without disturbance. Bison fertilize grazing lands while mixing and aerating the soil with minimal compaction.
The Seneca Nation Agricultural Department is striving to encourage a positive relationship between their people and the land. Traditional and healthy food production promotes food sovereignty and community wellness within the Seneca Nation. Gakwi:yo:h Farms is a big part of this movement.
New York Soil Health, the American Farmland Trust, and the USDA-NRCS came together with the Seneca Nation Agriculture Department and the farmers of Gakwi:yo:h Farms to discuss management of healthy soils and how to promote soil health to farmers throughout the Seneca Nation.
Gakwi:yo:h Farms has only been in operation for a year, and the farmers themselves are new to the trade. Despite their recent start, however, these farmers have a deep knowledge of their farm and have already made great strides in best management practices for their vegetables and fruits.
As part of the workshop, Aaron Ristow from American Farmland Trust discussed building soils for better health, outlined the economics of soil health, and explained the process and protocol of the New York Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health. Haley Rylander from New York Soil Health showed soil demonstrations on aggregate stability, infiltration, and soil compaction, and talked about reduced tillage and weed management for organic operations. Nicole Kubiczki, the organizer of the event from USDA-NRCS, talked about cover crop cocktails and helped the farmers plant cover crop experiment plots on the farm.
Gakwi:yo:h Farms plans to stay up-to-date on new practices and equipment for sustainable farm management and provide healthy produce to the Seneca Nation. Anyone can stop by their farm stand in Collins, New York to pick up roasted white corn, a variety of vegetables, frozen bison meat, and more.
New York Soil Health will continue to connect with the Seneca Nation, conducting a soil health assessment of Gakwi:yo:h Farms and providing resources on soil health practices.