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and the fourth sister you may not have heard of

The “Three Sisters” are the staple crops for many Native American tribes in North America- corn, beans, and winter squash. We plant corn, beans, and squash together because the biology of each individual plant helps the others grow, much like three sisters nurturing and supporting each other. Corn is planted in the center of a mound, and the beans and squash are planted at her base. As older sisters often do, the corn provides support for the beans to climb through the squash vines, winding their way up the cornstalks toward the sunlight. The beans hold the sisters close together, pulling nitrogen from the air and bringing it to the soil to nourish all three plants. The squash spreads along the ground, her large leaves shading the roots and preventing weeds from growing, the prickly hairs of the vine deterring pests. The fourth sister is sunflower. This sister lures birds away from the corn with her seeds, attracts insect pollinators, and also supplies seeds for use as food. From a nutritional standpoint, these Four Sisters contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all eight essential amino acids, allowing tribes to thrive on a plant-based diet. There are many varieties of corn, beans, squash and sunflowers that are specific to certain communities, which are considered sacred ancestors and have been preserved over countless generations, travelling from their homelands over removal roads to reservation lands. They have been with us since the beginning of time, and will continue to nourish and heal our people for generations to come.


An urban three sisters garden box, and a sunflower watching over her sisters.

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