From the Earth Farm and Education Garden is the community farm of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community near Bowler. Staff grow 30 different kinds of fruits and vegetables to provide 54 community supported agriculture (CSA) members with fresh produce during 15 weeks of the year.
The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe is one of 11 tribes in Wisconsin. There are close to 1,500 members, one-third of the members live on the 24,000-acre reservation in Shawano County.
For two years, Kellie Zahn, Stockbridge-Munsee Agriculture agent and Shawano County Farm Bureau member has worked to combine traditional and modern agriculture in the six-acre space.
The goal is to grow the farm into what will best serve the community and best support food security.
From the Earth is sharing seeds and sharing stories to reconnect people to their food.
“One initiative at the heart of From the Earth is to bring back traditional plants, foods and growing practices to the tribal community,” explained Kellie. “An entire generation has lost its connection to the land and traditional food of their ancestors.”
The team at From the Earth is rediscovering crops that were grown in the community hundreds of years ago and bringing those crops back to reconnect today’s tribal members with their heritage.
The staff has been experimenting with heritage plants since the garden started in 2017. Many heritage seeds do not come with growing instructions, so there has been some trial and error involved in introducing these plants and practices to the community.
“The high tunnels at From the Earth are a melding point of modern and traditional agriculture,” said Kellie. Traditional crops are grown in the high tunnels supported by modern technology such as drip irrigation, landscape fabric and ventilation.
Kellie explained that the main heritage crops that are being reintroduced in the garden are corn, beans, tomatoes and squash.
“Seeds are saved from the best, most healthy-looking plants to bring back into production the following year,” added Kellie.
Corn, beans and squash were traditionally grown in ‘three sisters’ gardens.
Kellie and staff have reintroduced this practice at From the Earth. The corn provides a trellis for the beans, the beans provide nitrogen for the corn and the squash helps to control the weeds in the system.
Historically, indigenous people raised crops on raised beds. Some theories to the concepts and successes behind this system include extending the growing season and moving plants away from the flood plain.
The raised bed system also enhances soil health and sustainability. Inputs and energy are focused on the mound, while clutter and waste are left in the ditches around the ridges.
“Mounds also increase water holding capacity because soil health is promoted in the raised areas,” explained Jamie Patton, UW Soil Health Scientist.
Jamie works closely with Kellie to rebuild soil health and implement conservation practices at From the Earth. The soil in Shawano County is a sandy loam, lacking water holding capacity. Jamie and Kellie are rebuilding a trust and understanding of organic matter and manure use in the soil.
Sunflowers are a staple in the gardens. Historically, sunflowers were planted around the edges of gardens to ‘teach’ the other plants. They offer a symbiotic relationship with the other plants and serve as an example for other plants to find nutrients and water.
“I always thought they were pretty and helped attract pollinators,” added Kellie, “It’s neat that they serve a traditional purpose too.”
For Kellie, it has been rewarding to reconnect the community with their food supply and to learn from the land and the plants that are grown. She welcomes community members to be involved in the growing process. People in the community have been missing the personal connection to their food.
“Being able to bring back crops that their ancestors have grown has been a special experience and often gives tribal members a spiritual connection to their food,” added Kellie.
The community garden works with the local casino to compost food scraps. These food scraps are used as fertilizer in the garden.
Community involvement and integration is the core of success at From the Earth Farm and Education Garden. It is exciting to bring the community to the farm and get them involved and interested in how their food is produced.
Providing the community with a healthy, secure food source is sustainability at its best at From the Earth.
“Sustainability means being here for future generations. We want to take care of our land and plants right now, not only to grow food for the community today, but also for tomorrow and years to come,” said Kellie.
Rachel Gerbitz is WFBF’s Director of Sustainability Communications and Partnerships. In this newly-created role, she oversees the organization’s sustainability communication efforts. Rachel grew up in Rock County where she was involved in 4-H and the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association. She now lives in Kaukauna. In her spare time, Rachel manages her small herd of registered Jersey cattle.
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