Zea mays subsp. mays
Origin: Lenapehoking (Delaware Valley), via Dewey, Oklahoma
Improvement status: Landrace
Seeds per packet: ~100
Germination tested 2/2023: 73%
Life cycle: Annual
Heirloom Lenni Lenape blue ("aonsu") sweet corn from the Pä-sakun'a'-mon ("Pulling Corn") sub-clan of the Tùkwsit ("Wolf") clan. Preserved by the Dean family of Washington Co., Oklahoma. Most kernels are purplish-blue, with a few white kernels. Cobs are well-formed and about 6-8 inches long. Plants grow to about 6 or 7 feet tall, and produce one or two ears per plant. The flavor is rich and sweet, with some kernels dappled with purple even at the milk stage.
We got these seeds from Kris Hubbard of Wild Wood Farms in Artemus, Kentucky. Kris is a part-Cherokee farmer, seed saver, herbalist, and anthropologist. His collection of seeds is remarkable, and his hand-written packages featuring extensively researched information (see photo) have become legendary in the heirloom seed-saving community. Sometimes his seeds come without much verifiable information — since so many seeds are passed along with little but oral history attached to them — but these seeds came with quite a bit. Most critically, they included a family name and a location — and, in this case, that family is known to be the source of a number of other Lenni Lenape heirlooms. Nora Thompson Dean of Dewey, Oklahoma, shared seeds decades ago with William Woys Weaver of the Roughwood Seed Collection (and a founding EFN Board member), and Charley Dean, also of Dewey, Oklahoma, is listed as the donor of two Lenape flour corns, 'Sehsapsing' and 'Puhwem', to the USDA in 1985.
When I (Nate) first got these seeds from Kris a few years ago, I know I had just received important seeds laden with responsibility. Though I grew up in Lenapehoking, the traditional homeland of the Lenni Lenape people, I have no Lenape heritage. But I do know that corn is more than just a grain or vegetable or seed to the indigenous people of this continent: it is a central part of their cosmology. It is both an ancestor and a living family member. It is sacred.
Knowing also how very rare this corn is — I've only ever heard of one other Lenape heirloom sweet corn — I knew that the 200 or so seeds I got from Kris could not be divided up. Corn requires a large population for seed saving to prevent degradation of the variety through a process known as inbreeding depression. So I brought the seeds to my Lenape friends in New Jersey — a Ramapough Lenape couple in North Jersey and a Nanticoke Lenni Lenape couple here in South Jersey — with the intention of beginning the rematriation process. Given my years of experience growing rare crops, it was agreed that I should grow out those 200 precious seeds at my isolated farm in central New York, where it would be least likely to get accidentally crossed with genetically engineered (GMO) corn, or any other corn. So that's what we did.
In early 2021, I returned the corn to both couples — leaders in their respective communities — so it could be planted in its native soil, by native hands, for the first time in generations. I also grew some at the EFN farm in Elmer, New Jersey, and those are the seeds we're offering here now. I had not intended to sell any of it, but with the encouragement of our Lenape friends (all working to resurrect the traditional agricultural practices of their people), we've collectively decided to sell these seeds and split the proceeds three ways: a third to the Munsee Three Sisters Medicinal Farm, a project of the Ramapough Lenape Turtle Clan Chief Vincent Mann and Clan Mother Michaeline Picaro; a third to the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation for a new community food-growing and seed-saving project; and a third will stay with EFN to cover some of our costs.
As an organization, EFN supports both reparations and the land back movement. The crimes committed by the United States against the indigenous people of this land can never be fully redressed — far too much profound damage has been caused across generations — but we nevertheless can and must try to make amends for the harm caused. Seed rematriation and solidarity work are but small steps in the right direction, and it's important that we recognize what an honor and privilege it is for us to even be able to do this work. We offer heartfelt acknowledgment here that this reciprocal work serves us as much as it serves the people we seek to assist — if not more.
This year's crop was grown in collaboration with The Seed Farm at Princeton University, with the help of a wonderful group of young student interns, under the direction of our friend Professor Tessa Lowinske-Desmond.
Note: By purchasing these special seeds, you agree to never attempt to patent or otherwise restrict the use of these seeds or their descendants. These seeds are sacred and they should be treated as such.