Long before New Mexico was known for signature crops like green chile, for centuries one of the primary foods came on a cob. Corn not only helped pueblo Indians native to the state sustain their lives, but in some cases determined where they would live.
Finding ways of developing special tools for farming, members of the different pueblos were able to establish unique growing methods where other crops like squash and beans were grown together with corn.
“That’s why they’re called the three sisters because they do things for each other,” said Bettina Sandoval, Cultural Education Specialist from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. “Basically corn takes nitrogen from the soil, beans put nitrogen back in the soil and then corn is seen as the eldest sister just because it’s the tallest and it also acts as a trellis for the beans and then the squash is seen as the second, the middle sister because it’s the protector. So the spiny, the prickly leaves of the squash deter bugs.”
Protecting the crops from the elements and insects weren’t the only worries of the tribes, but also finding a constant source of water.
“The pueblos cultivated corn when they built their permanent villages,” added Sandoval. “and we built them along valleys and the foothills of mountains where there was permanent water sources. So that’s basically the only reason that pueblos were really able to thrive in a permanent setting, many of the other tribes were nomadic.”
With the arrival of the Spanish came new challenges for agriculture. That also includes the pueblos supplying foods for new settlers on top of maintaining enough for their own families.
“I really feel that it made sure that we were able to produce you know, enough food for everybody,” said Sandoval. “But with the introduction of cows and sheep and chickens and fruit trees, you know, some of those orchards that they (Spanish) built, they expanded and took over some of our native species of choke cherry trees and wild plums…”
As with most things in the Native American culture from their food, its growth and everything associated with it is sacred. This is also the same for keeping the food growing traditions alive.
“Agriculture is definitely coming back and a lot of people in my generation you know and younger are learning it again,” added Sandoval.