Three Sisters Intercropping

A growing movement within Native American communities is the revitalization of cultural growing practices. Significant to this is the traditional intercropping system of corn, beans, and squash, known colloquially as the Three Sisters. The objectives of this interdisciplinary study are to engage with Native growers in communities throughout the Midwest to assess the cultural, nutritional, and agricultural importance of the Three Sisters Intercropping (3SI). In collaboration with Native communities, and with an emphasis on citizen science, we designed a Three Sisters garden plot to evaluate the impact of the intercropping on soil health and yield. Our rationale is that growing the 3SI will result in improved soil health and crop yield, when compared to monocultures of each of the crops. End of season soil analysis will identify key differences in soil nutrient levels, microbial biomass, and respiration rates between the monoculture and Three Sisters treatments.

An additional component of the project is to save seed from all crops grown in order to rematriate them back to collaborating Native communities. Rematriation is the process and movement of returning culturally valued seeds to the tribes of their origin. Therefore, the varieties grown at our research plot have been specifically selected to meet communities' seed needs. Rematriation efforts could have tremendous implications for community and ecological health– not to mention additional significances of improving seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and food security.