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Growing Corn Nourishes My Heart
I have practiced growing flint, flour and dent corn for 6 seasons now. After harvest the corn is brought inside and hung up, laid on screens or carefully placed in boxes to dry and cure.
From winter through summer I look forward to finding time to cook a batch of cornbread or corn pancakes using our homegrown corn. I nixtamalize the corn, cooking it in wood ash or an alkaline solution to dissolve the corn’s antinutrients and make more bioavailable the corn’s nutrition.
The result is corn kernels that are soft and delicious. When you bite into a nixtamalized corn kernel, the starchy texture is so satisfying. Ever since my son started eating solid foods, he has always gobbled nixtamalized corn, and I can see why.
On some special occasions we’ve made arepas or empanadas. As a Colombian American, my father enjoys the reminder of a taste of home. Growing and eating our own corn inevitably rouses stories of his childhood in rural Colombia.
Earlier this year I decided to embark on a journey of saving our own corn seed for replanting next season. In fact I’ve been inspired by Joseph Lofthouse, author of Landrace Gardening, to create our own family variety by mixing different flint corn varieties together. In the coming seasons I’ll select seed from our favorite plants and ears.
Growing staple crops has been an interest of mine since I got bitten by the permaculture bug about 10 years ago. I’ve planted a bunch of chestnut trees over the past few years in the hopes of growing a significant amount of delicious starches for our family.
At the same time I started growing corn as an annual stopgap for producing our own carbohydrates while our chestnut trees are establishing and maturing.
Corn has not let me down. It is deer and turkey resistant. Seedlings are slug, sow bug and mulch resistant. Even if the ears are small, they always produce something worth eating, even in our challenging soil and microclimate.
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Looking back now, I am glad I gave corn a chance because it has come to mean so much to me.
10 years ago my eyes were opening wide to problems of modern agriculture. I learned how corn syrup and corn meal was added to many of our common industrial foods and contributing to an epidemic of health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
I learned how corn was being fed to CAFO cows unethically. Corn was being sprayed with herbicides and pesticides and poisoning our soil, water, birds, animals and our human kin.
The problems seemed unending and my heart could not take it. I was ashamed to be a modern human, angry at an industry and saddened by suffering.
Indigenous people loved and worshiped this beautiful plant and its seed for millennia. They bred this plant from a wild, nearly inedible weed into a nutritious food with beautiful kernels. They honored and revered the spirit of corn.
Our culture took this beauty and turned it into a factory and it is hurting us. Even those that profit most from industrial corn are losing.
I didn’t want to contribute to these problems through the food that I purchased. I didn’t even want to grow corn. My heart shut out the possibility.
My heart wasn’t ready to grieve the loss of beauty and connection. Despite my tears I wasn’t ready to grieve the pain and suffering that we caused our human kin and the earth’s beautiful ecology through our industrial, colonizing culture.
Then over the years as I pursued a more natural lifestyle my heart became ready to move through the grieving process. As the layers of grief opened up I moved slowly towards acceptance. Its an ongoing journey to be sure.
Somewhere along this journey I became excited about growing corn. I no longer associated it with pain. As I planted some small patches of several varieties of flint, flour and dent corn I was excited about new possibilities. I tended and loved the plants as a gardener does.
One day I was looking at the corn and realized that it represented my heart. In the past the corn plant had represented tragedy, loss and suffering. Now I look at the corn and I can see both loss and acceptance, grief and hope.
What does it mean to grow corn to feed our family?
When I look at our modest harvest of corn I am humbled by all of our human ancestors’ collective abilities to cultivate various food crops for sustenance. I am also grateful for industrial agriculture which supplies staple foods while we re-learn how to grow our own sustenance.
Planting, growing, harvesting, nixtamalizing and cooking our corn into delicious meals all have something in common. They take time. I am consciously choosing to spend time with this practice whose resulting caloric value could easily be replaced for a few dollars.
Like all the other homestead practices we take on, the value of growing, cooking and connecting with corn is not measurable in dollars. My heart knows this well, even if my mind sometimes forgets.
Growing corn is another way of letting go of the need for efficiency. Letting go of the need to measure all of my time in dollars. Letting go of anger and grief around cultural traumas.
This letting go is opening a heart space to better receive beauty with emotional and spiritual nourishment from corn and other plants in our garden.
Finding this nourishment, meaning and connection is a journey, not a destination. So I can be grateful for this year’s harvest and look forward to sowing the kernels next year.
Next season I can begin to tell the corn plants what their parents meant to me. For now I’ll cherish and honor the beautiful corn cobs in our home and on our plates.
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2 responses to “Growing Corn Nourishes My Heart”
Great info at I’ve and thoughtful article!