Cypress Reservation, FL Sometimes community outreach begins
by planting seeds in your own backyard.
"This shows culture in action history brought to
life," said Van Samuels, a Tribal community outreach specialist
at the site of a new authentic Seminole garden on the grounds of
The 1,000-square-foot garden built by Samuels and outreach specialists
Jacob Osceola Jr. and Rey Becerra in early July had already begun
to flourish only 14 days later with 2-foot-high corn plants and
several sweet potato vines. Nearby, native cabbage palm trees and
exotic guava trees, brought to the area in the 1800s from South
America, provided a natural canopy to the garden that would soon
also sprout peas, beans and pumpkins.
Persimmon and grapes still grow wild in the surrounding area
as they have for centuries.
Osceola said the garden design and what to plant were plucked
from archival data that included photographs from the 1930s through
the 1970s and elder interviews from the Museum¡¦s oral
collection. The trio used two types of traditional planting: cypress
log border beds and raised mounds. Both styles use rich soil gathered
from high patches of land in the water-abundant Everglades.
The cypress logs came from trees leftover from the recent construction
of a water retention area and naturally felled trees.
"Knowing how important gardens were long ago is important
today. It¡¦s been in our culture forever,"Osceola
Corn was planted first. The kernels came from Becerra's friend
who brought them from Cuba about 10 years ago. When the corn stalks
are strong enough, they will serve as trellises to hold peas and
beans off the ground and keep them dry. Pumpkins will be planted
last using Seminole pumpkin seeds provided to the Tribe in May by
the Historic Hernando Preservation Society at the dedication of
the Chocochatti historical marker near Tampa.
Samuels said the same garden plants were grown by Tribal ancestors
to sustain family camps in the Everglades, but they were also easily
transplantable during the Seminole Wars when camps were quickly
moved to new locations.
"Our ancestors would gather what they could, carry the
seeds, the plants, and start all over again," Samuels said.
Through Native American generations, the planting technique
has been called Three Inseparable Sisters. Corn, beans and squash,
as main ingredients, support each other by virtue of plant size,
stem strength and leaf function. They protect each other from sun,
rain and foraging animals while keeping soil moist and fertile with
During rainy season, elders occasionally planted gardens on tree
islands. Samuels said the current garden can withstand up to 6 inches
No pesticides or fertilizers were ever needed.
If bugs were ever a problem, we would pick them off with
our fi ngers, Osceola said.
The plot will eventually also include sugar cane and several
types of melons. The gardens of the 1840s were different from
the 1920s, so ours will also evolve, Samuels said in reference
to oranges from China via Spain that eventually became a Florida
industry. It was always a balancing act of native and non-natives,
cultivated plants and whatever grew wild. Everything goes to sustainability.
It was a blessing to dedicate our minds to our gardens and
get a decent meal.
The garden is near the end of a milelong boardwalk that stretches
through natural swamp land to the scene of a native camp. Paul Backhouse,
director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation
Offi cer, said the garden provides an additional and historically
accurate experience for visitors. He said the idea to build the
garden came during a visit to the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural
History Preserve in Washington state. Tulalip Tribe elder Veronica
Leahy tends a cultural garden at Hibulb that reconnects Tribal members
to their roots while teaching how natural foods can thwart common
Native American illnesses, such as diabetes.
Samuels said gardens can be credited for the very survival of
the Seminole Tribe. Here we are in 2014 in a simple garden
that teaches technology, history, culture and survival and teaches
the young what our elders endured. We are still here today because
it was passed down generation to generation, Samuels said.
On a spiritual level, what we ate was from the Creator. It
healed our body and mind.