Planting health, culture and sovereignty: traditional horticulture of the Lumbee Nation of North Carolina.

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Okuda-Jacobs, Angelina. “Planting health, culture and sovereignty: traditional horticulture of the Lumbee Nation of North Carolina.” Thesis (M.S., Land Resources). U of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000. 90 p. Key source


This thesis explains that, due to land loss, changes in the size of farms,loss of control of soil and water regulation, more Lumbee people entering non-farm occupations, and more Lumbee women entering the workforce and abandoning subsistence gardening, the Lumbee have been losing their traditional, sustainable agricultural methods. It also makes strong arguments that “Restoration of these [agricultural] resources to a healthy, sustaining state are fundamental components of any economic re-development for the Lumbee. For this recovery to begin, the Lumbee Nation must re-establish control over the management and development decisions of its ancestral soils and waters” (p. 3).

Okuda-Jacobs explains the historical reasons for Lumbee land loss, including the “tied mule” incidents in the 19th century, when the Lumbee were treated as “free persons of color” and not allowed to sit on juries or testify against whites in court. White farmers would tie their mule or place their cattle on a Lumbee farmer's land, then report to the sheriff that the animals had been stolen by the Lumbee farmer. An all-white jury would find the Lumbee guilty, and he would have to sell his land to pay the fines. In the 20th century, Lumbee people lost land when white landowners pressured the state government to survey and drain the swamps so that the land would be suitable for plantation-style agriculture. The state confiscated any of the surveyed land that was not on record in the deeds office and/or property tax had not been paid. Once the timber was cut down and the swamps drained, the land was sold to the highest bidder. Most of the drainage and land sale occurred from the early 1900s until the 1960s. Lumbee people were especially affected by the drainage of Back Swamp (around 32,850 acres) between 1914 and 1918.

Traditional Lumbee farmng and gardening methods included (1) farming on swamp highland areas, which were flooded each winter and received silt deposits which restored the land's natural fertility; and (2) intercropping and crop and field rotation. Very few Lumbee gardeners continue swamp horticulture or grow Lumbee varieties, however.

Okuda-Jacobs provides useful, detailed discussions (often with statistics) of the number of acres owned by tribal members, churches, and tribal government; Robeson County soil types, water supply and condition, and water uses; amount of land devoted to agriculture vs. other uses; typical Lumbee farms and crops, and typical Lumbee subsistence gardens and crops, until the changes that occurred around the middle of the twentieth century; details on current Lumbee gardening practices; nutritional aspects of the Lumbee diet; and number and size of farms in Robeson County.

Okuda-Jacobs concludes with strong arguments that “if the techniques and social role of gardening are not maintained within the community, the Lumbee may lose one of their defining cultural and social expressions as a nutritious food base and an important income augmentation” (pp. 26-27). In addition, “rebuilding a self-reliant horticultural system [will] prevent Lumbee financial resources from leaving the community in such great amounts” (p. 60). She proposes accomplishing these aims by using traditional horticultural techniques which do not require chemicals, commercial seeds, and machinery; looking at and implementing one of the programs which have worked to maintain or revive traditional horticulture (she describes the Tsyunhehkwa Center in Oneida, Wisconsin; the Nuxalt Food and Nutrition Program in British Columbia; the Native Seeds/Search project in Tucson, Arizona; and the Indigenous Preservation Networking Center in New York); and establishing a farmers' cooperative which would sell farmers' produce to a distribution center, then sell the produce to local restaurants, schools, day care centers, etc. Also involved in the plan would be a seed bank; re-education of gardeners in traditional horticultural techniques; and newsletters, nutrition workshops, and demonstration gardens.

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