Pat Gwin
Cherokee Nation Seed Bank
Tahlequah, Okla.

In an agricultural system obsessed with monoculture and efficiency, native plant species are becoming more and more rare. That’s a problem! This seed bank annually distributes the seeds of traditional crops to Cherokee Nation citizens to preserve heirloom species.

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Cherokee Nation researchers spent two years travelling the country to acquire germplasm (yes, that’s a word) for approximately 20 species of traditional Cherokee crops, such as beans, corn, and squash. Back in Tahlequah, the seat of the Cherokee Nation, the research team cultivates, preserves, and distributes the seeds. Gwin, director of natural resources for the Cherokee Nation, says that they use mostly organic methods to tend the crops, but their micro-farm isn’t certified: “We don’t want that extra paperwork. We’re more interested in the genetic integrity of the varieties that we have, and then making sure we can provide a service to our population.”

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“Most of our inquiries are: ‘How do I grow this?’ and ‘What are some of the traditional recipes?’” says Gwin. “Most of those come from folks that are not local. Which is a good thing — that’s a good way for them to regain a part of the culture that they’ve lost.”

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