Connect with your ancestors by growing their heirloom fruits and vegetables

Commercial agriculture and factory farms churn out the same old fruits and vegetables each season and choices are about the same, regardless where you call home. We’ve lost so many foods that our grandparents considered common and many culturally significant foods are hard to find or non-existent. Many people are starting to research the foods of their ancestors and return them to their diets. Amazingly enough, these forgotten foods are full of nutrients and things the body needs for good health. Depending on your ancestors, some of these foods could be amaranth, yams, taro or bitter melons. Many Native Americans search for old varieties of corn, beans, pumpkins and even wild rice, while African Americans, search for okra, cowpeas and amaranth. People of Pacific Islander descent choose to add taro, yams and cassava. There so much to offer in the way of healthy traditional foods, we just have to do a little research.

Try hand harvested Minnesota Wild Black Rice for a traditional meal

Traditional foods are healthier

There has been a huge resurgence in gardening in the last couple of years and along with the ordinary food plants we all know, many people search for fruits and vegetables that are culturally significant to their family’s heritage. Native Americans or First Peoples have been rediscovering the foods of their ancestors and there are several organizations that have sprung up to aid them in obtaining seeds and growing information about these heirloom varieties. The traditional foods are open pollinated and of course non-GMO, so seed saving is encouraged. Seeds are offered to various tribes and individuals who are descended from Native Peoples in an attempt to give them better choices than the processed, salt, sugar and carb-laden offerings that contribute to high percentages of diabetes and heart disease among the people.

Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden is a book about the gardening practices of the Hidasta Indians of North Dakota

Many organizations and seed companies can help you select culturally significant seeds

The Americas gave the world, corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, beans and peppers. Even though these are all common foods these days, obtaining the old-open pollinated varieties is sometimes difficult. Native Seeds is an organization that helps the First Peoples connect with seeds and education on growing and using the crops of their ancestors. San Diego Seed Company is another one dedicated to the indigenous food crops of the desert southwest. Prairie Road Organic Seed in North Dakota specializes in the native food crops of the upper plains. Hudson Valley Seed Sanctuary preserves several historic Mohawk seeds along with other open pollinated seeds that Native Peoples used in the past. All of these sites have on-going education about the crops, how to grow them and of course, are sources for the actual seeds.

Native American foods

Native Americans had many favorite foods. Check to see what your region is famous for.

Forget the commercial foods of the traditional Thanksgiving feast. They’ve been altered so much they hardly resemble the fare that the Native Americans and the first settlers ate that day. Roasted squash or pumpkin (since that’s what pumpkins are, just another squash) and roasted meats, dried beans, wild rice and possibly venison or even buffalo. Unusual vegetable choices were fiddlehead ferns, ramps, various nuts and of course onions and mushrooms. Wild berries and fruits like plums, persimmons and paw paws were incorporated into many dishes and seasonings included mints, sage and wild garlic. Each region had their own favored foods and seasonings, so do a little research into the peoples who lived in an area and what they ate. Native peoples ate whole foods. They may be dried, roasted, or stewed with other whole foods, however the foods they ate were mostly plant-based and wild game. The carbs and fats were good and necessary to their energy and health.

Buffalo meat has half the fat, lower in cholesterol and higher in essential minerals than meat from cattle. Try some today.

There are many culturally significant foods you can grow. Explore your gardening heritage.

There are a number of small seed houses and organizations that offer education and information about what foods our ancestors enjoyed. In some of the next articles, we’ll explore the Southwest and Mexican foods, Asian, Pacific Islander, African, Indian and European fruits and vegetables. Each part of the world has their own favorites and if you look for them, there are seeds to grow the fruits and vegetables beloved by these cultures. It gives you a connection to the ones who have gone before you. The seeds tie you to a heritage that you may not know much about at the moment. However the connection is there and you’ll feel it when you grow, prepare and eat the foods of your ancestors. People used to eating processed and foods of convenience will adjust sooner than they think and they will be healthier for it as well.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commissions at no cost to you.