Ty Boyd is kneeling in a freshly dug row of potatoes. His knees are in the dirt and his hands are holding two small tubers. Along with his neighbors, he’s cultivating potatoes, curly mustard greens, pumpkins, sweet corn and more at Kituwah Farm near Bryson City, North Carolina. He’s also tending to the soil that has sustained generations of Cherokee people before him.
“Having the opportunity to be out here in the same fields that my ancestors were able to farm, it’s a really special gift,” Ty says.
Kituwah is the Mother Town, or original home, of the Cherokee people. It’s considered by the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes as their place of origin. Archeologists date the site back to nearly 10,000 years ago when Kituwah Mound was the center of the village and agriculture was essential to community life.
The land was taken from them during the forced relocation of Cherokee people by the United States government between 1830 and 1850. Over the next one hundred and fifty years, Cherokee people returned to Western North Carolina to reclaim the land and revive their traditions.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee brought back the Kituwah village site in 1996 with the purchase of more than 300 acres of land. It was their first major land purchase in more than a century and allowed them to return to the fields where their ancestors farmed.
Mike Crowe, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, explains the significance. “We’re very unique, as far as modern indigenous communities are concerned, that we’re still in our ancestral homeland when many modern communities, if they’re still in existence at this point, are severely displaced,” he says.
For Cherokee people in Western North Carolina, farming is a way to reconnect with the land and work together as a community. “Our people have always been agricultural people. We’ve always raised the three sisters, we call corn, beans and squash. Those are staples in our diet. But there are also many wild greens and mushrooms that were always part of our diet,” he says.
Community members are coming together around agriculture, both at Kituwah Farm and in other areas of life. There’s been more interest in programs put in place by Cherokee leaders to encourage families to grow food at home, like the garden kits that are distributed to tribal members each spring.
These kits contain a variety of seeds grown by Cherokee farmers Harold and Nancy Long at their farm that borders tribal land. Each summer, home gardens are full of indigenous foods like beans and squash that families cook into nourishing meals, carrying on Cherokee traditions in the garden and at the dinner table.
As the growing season gets underway, farmers like Mike Crowe are eager to cultivate and honor the land that their ancestors once farmed. “The precedents of this place for our people can’t be understated,” he says.
Take a virtual farm tour of Kituwah Farm at www.growing-minds.org. Find more information about farmers Harold and Nancy Long and the ways Cherokee communities are engaging with agriculture in the Growing Local archive at www.asapconnections.org/broadcasts
Aired: April 12, 2021