Horticulture Department Offers Satisfying Course in Indigenous Eating Habits – CALS News

Jon Greendeer (foreground, right) shares stories with students in Hort 380 – Indigenous Foodways: Food and Seed Sovereignty in February 2022. Photo by Jeff Miller/UW–Madison.

On a freezing February afternoon, about 60 UW-Madison Horticulture 380 – Native Foodways: Food and Seed Sovereignty students gathered around a campfire near the campus’ Dejope residence. They were there to learn about ice fishing, game hunting, and the traditional eating habits that helped Wisconsin’s native people survive the winter.

“Let’s pretend we’re in pre-colonial times. If we are to survive here, how are we going to do that? What are we going to eat tonight?” asked Jon Greendeer (Ho-Chunk and Oneida), a diabetes educator and former president of the Ho-Chunk Nation, who was an enthusiastic guest speaker for Hort 380 over the past three years.

Sixty heads spun around, scanning the frozen landscape, then turned back to Greendeer with uncertain, dismayed looks.

“You look around, there is nothing to eat. You’re going to starve, aren’t you? Greendeer joked. “To survive, [our people had] draw on our wisdom, a wisdom that comes from generations.

It’s a wisdom that has been nearly lost, Greendeer explained to the elated crowd – and that he is involved in revitalization. After being driven from their lands in the 1800s, many tribes lost their traditional eating habits. To help bring back these means, Greendeer runs classes and workshops for members of the tribal community to teach them how to hunt, gather, preserve and cook traditional foods – from bison, deer and fish to corn and rice. savage.

Spearfishing demonstration on frozen Lake Mendota in February 2022. Photo by Jeff Miller/UW–Madison.

Greendeer is one of many powerful guest speakers for Hort 380, a course that introduces students to the foods and lifestyles of Indigenous peoples of the upper Great Lakes region from multiple perspectives – historical, legal, biological, and social. Students learn how settler colonialism and subsequent agricultural practices and policies impacted tribal dietary habits, and they also explore current tribal efforts to reclaim their agricultural traditions and food sovereignty (control over their own production and food distribution).

“It was really cool to hear [Greendeer] while we were all standing around the fire and the buffalo meat was cooking in front of us,” says Emma Mechelke, a double major in horticulture and plant pathology. “He strives to bring these culturally appropriate foods and the ways of cooking and serving them back to his community. Her visit brought together a lot of things we were talking about in class.

The course offers fun experiential learning opportunities such as cooking with native foods, tapping maple trees for syrup, and a spearfishing demonstration. It is open to all UW-Madison students and serves an extended social science credit.

The Arboretum’s David Stevens explains to students how maple sap is reduced to syrup, at the UW Arboretum in March 2022. Photo by Nicole Miller/UW–Madison CALS.

Perhaps the most popular class activity was going to the college arboretum and learning about the Native American tradition of tapping trees and then boiling tree sap to make syrup. During the visit, the students tasted many saps and syrups and had the opportunity to drink the sap directly from a tree, as it flowed from a tap.

“I remember going to maple syrup when I was a kid. So it was important to actually study syrup and hear from experts about it, including the cultural significance that maple syrup has for Indigenous communities,” says Ryan Meeker, a computer science graduate, who has grew up hunting, fishing and syruping in northern Wisconsin. . “The members of the tribe would meet at the maple grove, collect maple syrup together and celebrate the end of winter. They worked very hard to collect enough of this important food source to last another full year.

Hort 380 is co-taught by Irwin Goldman, Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and Dan Cornelius (Oneida), Outreach Program Manager with two appointments on campus – one in the Department of Plant Pathology and a second with the Great UW Law School. Lakes Native Law Center.

“Irwin’s scientific perspective and Dan’s knowledge of indigenous tribal law really helped frame our conversations,” says Mechelke.

Dan Cornelius speaks with students inside a temporary pavilion, which students helped erect for the class in February 2022. Photo by Jeff Miller/UW–Madison.

“Dan always seemed to have personal experiences to which he connected what he taught, [so we could] see how it actually happens in real life and not just what the manual says,” says Meeker. “We were talking about what’s happening today, how the tribes are working with the federal government — and each other — to try to support their local farmers and how they’re trying to reclaim a lot of their food sovereignty.”

The course was designed to expand opportunities for agricultural education, giving students the opportunity to learn about Indigenous approaches and perspectives, which have been largely absent from college curricula. Development of the course was funded by Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, a competitive grant program designed to help the university bring knowledge and resources across the state.

During the course, students complete an independent research project on a particular plant or animal-based food, and then create that food as part of their final project and paper. The project includes tracing all issues related to food sovereignty, such as control and appropriation of food by others.

A student samples sap directly from a tree, while Irwin Goldman holds the sap collection container, at the UW Arboretum in March 2022. Photo by Nicole Miller/UW–Madison CALS.

Meeker’s research project was on maple syrup, and for his final project and paper, he made maple candies.

“It’s something I always heard about when I was a kid when we made maple syrup – that you could make maple candy if you wanted to. I had never done it, so I was curious,” Meeker says. “As soon as I did, we ate them.”

Mechelke made pemmican, a mixture of dried meat and fat.

“It was the original protein bar, basically,” she says. “I added a few cranberries to mine to enhance the taste, but it wasn’t my favorite.”

But the course nurtured her in a bigger way.

“The course instilled a lot of compassion and awareness,” says Mechelke. “It was a really encouraging experience.”

Nohemi M. Moore