Honor Your ‘Mother’: Working to Keep Traditional Ways, Types of Hopi Corn

May 22, 2023

Some Indigenous farmers are trying to bring traditional food back to their communities.

Michael Kotutwa Johnson, a farmer from the Hopi Tribe, is focusing on bringing Hopi corn back to the dining table – not only for the health benefits but also to connect his people to their culture.

Johnson, who also is a faculty member at the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment, refers to corn as “our mother.”

“Corn represents our mother, and we need to take care of her so she can take care of us,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the main reasons I do what I do – because I want to give back to the community more than I give back to myself.”

His mission is to grow thousands of ears of corn at Arcosanti, an experimental town in Mayer, about 70 miles north of metro Phoenix, and then make it accessible to the Hopi Tribe.

Drought has made it difficult to grow corn on Hopi lands for the past few years, so it has not been widely available.

Johnson partnered with Arcosanti to test corn growth on an acre of land to see if Hopi corn would successfully grow 175 miles away from the Hopi Tribe, which is in northeastern Arizona.

The corn has 10 to 15 times more mineral content than the corn found in grocery stores, he said. He believes if corn is more accessible to the Hopi people, they will see an improvement in health, and he hopes to make that possible. If the corn grows successfully at Arcosanti, Johnson plans to take the corn home to Hopi tribal lands and distribute it to the community, while keeping some as seed corn for the next season.

Johnson’s Hopi corn effort is one part of a larger seed restoration project he’s working on that includes other Indigenous crops.

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