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Celebrating Native American Land Practices

Nov 15, 2022 | Horticulture

Celebrating Native American Land Practices

Native Plants

As land managers continue to look for ways to utilize more sustainable, ecologically-sound land practices, many of the processes that were developed by Native Americans have come to the foreground. Because the relationship between Native Americans and the land they relied on was one of mutual respect—where land was treated as a resource that needed to be maintained and not exploited—their techniques have informed many of the thoughtful practices being utilized today, including intercropping.

The concept of intercropping involves planting complementary crops together to dissuade unwanted pests that can destroy monocrops (i.e. areas with just one plant species). The “Three Sisters” approach is one example of this. By planting beans, corn, and squash together, these crops are provided with the diversity, infrastructure, and nutrients they need for a successful harvest. The corn serves as a stake for the beans to grow tall on, while the beans act as a nitrogen-fixing crop, adding a vital nutrient to the soil. The squash, in turn, provides protection for the soil’s surface, keeping moisture in and weeds out.

The benefits that come with using methods like these are exponential. The increase in beneficial insects both in the soil layer and above it is, by and large, much more significant with these land management practices than the ones that are typically implemented today. 

TEK, or traditional ecological knowledge, is the understanding that many of the techniques used by Native Americans were informed by thousands of years of experience. These time-honored practices are a great inspiration to many contemporary land managers, including us here at Madison Square Park Conservancy. As larger conversations surrounding climate change loom on the horizon, it is important that we consider the work of the original stewards of the land in order to chart a thoughtful, integrated approach to the future of land management.

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