PHOTOS: Detroit harvest begins with an elder's stories

Come fall season, you'll find Lucy Harrison out harvesting corn at a Three Sisters Garden in Detroit. But to the Anishinaabe elder, and to those she mentors, the process of growing corn, beans, and squash together in a "three sisters" style means a lot more than a thriving crop that naturally supports itself.

Model D photographer Rosa Maria Zamarron weaved her way through the harvest this year to share the start of the season. 

"As a young adult I became interested in gardening and started my first garden at Indian Health," says Harrison. "That garden started with a Three Sisters Garden that grew over many years. It was meant to educate local urban Indian youth and adults about their connection with the earth." 

Since retiring, Harrison continued to garden in raised beds at her home in Detroit, growing fruit, vegetables, and herbs to feed and share with others.

"During Covid, I wanted to focus on the Three Sisters Gardening and needed more space. A wonderful friend offered more space at Knaggs Creek Farm, located in Detroit." 

"That’s when the Three Sisters Garden was reborn," says Harrison. "What I learned was how the corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, sacred tobacco, and many variety of fruits started teaching me about their stories. I was humbled by the way plants were growing and teaching me and it’s here where I learned it’s the plant world that are my educators."

"Without a voice, they taught me more and more by how they moved. Their language is one of quiet observation." 

Harrison describes the joy of watching the corn grow taller than her, and then observing "her sister, the Potawatomi squash" as it started trailing off, sprouting across the earth. "Along came the Potawatomi, or Lima, beans starting their journey as they climbed and hung on to big sister corn."

"I grow the sacred white Iroquois corn seeds that were given to me many years back," Harrison says. She describes this year's harvest as "powerful" and "humbling", "beautiful and vibrant with richness and ribbons of colors".

"Realizing it was Covid and no one traveling, I called one of my elders so we could sing the Green Corn Song that is sung at the time of harvest. We sang, we cried happy tears for the plentiful gifts we were receiving." 

"This Three Sisters Garden and related plants and fruit has propelled me further to respect what Turtle Island-Mother Earth has been proving for millennium." 

"My personal goal will continue to grow this sacred white corn, Potawatomi beans, Potawatomi squash, sunflowers, sacred tobacco, berries, and to continue teaching my grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

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Read more articles by Rosa María Zamarrón.