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Creole Seeds and the Three Sisters

Updated: Aug 29

The Three Sisters

The union between Corn, Beans and Pumpkin is ancestral. It is known as the “Three Sisters”, or Milpa, a word derived from the Nahuatl indigenous language, of the Uto-Aztecan family.

As an ancient agricultural technique used in the Americas by native peoples, the Three Sisters represent a precolonial epistemology of scientific relevance to the trajectory of human existence. Corn, beans, and pumpkin seeds, when planted together, maximize the productivity of each of the three, enrich the soil, and contribute robustly to people's nutrition. They complement each other not only in growth and development, but also in nutritional value.

Corn, in its quest for as much light as possible, grows vertically and provides a stable structure for the beans to climb. Beans, in turn, provide the soil with Nitrogen, an essential element for the healthy growth of several plants, including corn. Squash stays low to the ground, its wide leaves protect the soil and shallow roots from direct sun, and prevents the development of unwanted weeds.

This trio is famous even in Brazilian popular music. Luiz Gonzaga, one of the greatest sertanista composers in Brazil, poetically describes the arrival of the rains in the arid fields of the Pernambuco hinterland:

"...From the arrival of the rains in the hinterland

See the cracked earth softening

The land, before poor, enriching

The corn pointing to the sky

The beans on the floor spreading

And then, for the harvest, what a joy…"

Seeds and Tales created this piece where Milpa is the protagonist, honored as one of the first technological creations of holistic agriculture.

Creole Seeds

A creole seed variety is native, free from commercial genetic manipulations, and unknown to modern agro-industrial technologies. Nowadays, that seeds have become patented commodities by companies which single-handedly develop new DNA sequences of crops, creole seeds and their protectors are the vanguard of a movement which ensures the survival of the world's flora, its origins and magnificent diversity.

Beyond the genetic paradigm of plant proliferation, there is a cultural legacy to creole seeds, which plays an indispensable role in their protection. Unique cultivars may be passed on from generation to generation of a family, and with them memories, rites and myths. As such, creole seeds are staples of biological as well as cultural protection and sustainability. The proliferation of genetically modified seeds, therefore, often cause desertification of both land and heritage.

These seeds, patented by the agro-industrial complex, have a strong commercial appeal and are planted in monocultures that are highly dependent on pesticides. At the end of a monocultural cycle, what remains is a degraded and impoverished soil, and since the 1980s, creole maize is an example of a cultivar that suffers under this threat.

Creole Corn

In Syntropic Agriculture, under the guidance of the farmer and researcher Ernst Götsch, creole corn is used in experiments aimed at improving food production, and at the same time recovering degraded soils and reforesting desertified lands.

In Mexico, corn is not a commodity in food production, it is heritage. It symbolizes an array of ancestral experiences which dictate family relationships, culinary legacies, and an unprecedented technology of land use. Creole corn is nothing less than the emblem of the great civilizations which once thrived in the lands we now call Mexico, and whose descendants continue to embody this legacy.


Written by Mirna Wabi-Sabi

Photographed by Riccardo Riccio

Conceptualized by Trovão Tropical

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