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Bear Island Flint Corn

One of our current projects focuses on the growing of Bear Island Flint Corn. This research centers on the testing of three soil amendments against a control. This is a randomized replication study with each treatment being repeated four times. Research plots are laid out in sixteen ten-foot-by-fifteen-foot plots. Each plot contains four sub-rows of corn. Each row has thirty plants. The garden is set up with four plots per row, walking paths between each set of plots, and a two foot buffer zone around the garden.

This research mimics the use of two of the soil amendments found in the archeological work of Dr. David Overstreet, Menominee tribal archeologist: bio-char and aquatic substance. The third amendment is a conventional nitrogen-based fertilizer available for everyday use called Urea. Bio-char is made by burning wood down to a charcoal state. It is then raked into the soil. Due to safety concerns, SDI substitutes fish emulsion for aquatic substance.

This project also involves collecting and analyzing data on corn yield, kernel size, moisture content of the plants and seed, and differences amongst the four treatment methods. Students worked with specialists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to learn how to monitor soil conditions with moisture meters, soil probes, and lab equipment. The students also measure for plant growth, harvest, and attend workshops on soil morphologies. The students then work with a statistician to analyze the data that they collect.

About Bear Island Flint Corn

Bear Island Flint Corn, commonly associated with the Ojibwa people, is named after an island in Canada where it originated from. Bear Island Flint is a perfect corn to grow in Northern Wisconsin, with an 85 to 90 day maturity rate coinciding with our growing season. Traditionally, flint corn is a grinding corn used for a wide range of purposes from flour to soup. Picked in its green stage like sweet corn, Bear Island Flint Corn is sweet and delicious.

After Growing Season

In addition to growing, monitoring and harvesting the corn, students and staff also learn about what to do with the finished product. Every year, students, staff and volunteers from the community work together to harvest the corn and come together for a traditional harvest feast, which often involves storytelling and words from the elders. Students process the corn using traditional substitutes for modern chemicals and prepare hominy using a traditional recipe. Often, in addition to participating in these activities themselves, students are able to share their knowledge through demonstrations for local youth and other visitors. Other activities include the making of corn husk dolls and jewelry from the beautiful, colorful kernels produced in the season.