Add Some Science to Your Thanksgiving This Year

Families that celebrate Thanksgiving know how central food is to the holiday. Maybe you choose to talk about the history of settlers mistreating Native Americans, maybe you choose to focus on family and giving thanks for the wonderful parts of life.

Here’s a way to add some history and science to your pre-Thanksgiving learning time. 

So much of the food we celebrate with, and eat throughout the Fall is the result of knowledge held by Indigenous people throughout the Americas and taught to European settlers. 

Teaching your children about the 3 Sister Crops is a great way to bring in history and teach respect for First Nations and their knowledge that has been passed down for generations. 

What are the 3 Sister Crops?

Corn, beans, and squash when planted together help protect each other and ensure a good harvest. When planted together they enhance the soil with added nutrients and minimal erosion.  

Beans are planted at the base of the corn stalks and squash beside them. As the bean vines grow they rely on the support from the corn stalks. And in turn the bean vines strengthen the corn stalks and help prevent them from the elements like being blown over by the wind.

The beans add beneficial nitrogen into the soil which in turn fertilizes the corn and squash. Beans are able to do this because they are a legume and legumes contain a bacteria in their roots that can take nitrogen from the air and soil and make it usable for other crops.  

As the squash grows its large leaves act as shade for all three plants and protection from the harsh sun. This ‘living mulch’ keeps the soil moist and also helps prevent an overgrowth of weeds. And because the squash’s leaves are spikey it also keeps predators away from eating all three crops before they are ready to be harvested.   

Corn (maize), beans, and squash are the perfect crops to have as they provide for a balanced, nutritious diet. Together they contain all nine essential amino acids plus complex carbohydrates and essential fatty acids. 

Corn = Carbohydrate
Beans = Protein
Squash = Essential Vitamins and Minerals

The 3 Sisters represent an ancient spiritual connection and appear in the mythology of many tribes. The 3-Sister Crop originated in northern Mesoamerica and gradually was carried northward and up the river valleys over many generations. The tribes used these 3 crops for food and for trade.

If your Thanksgiving table includes string bean casserole, corn bread, or pumpkin pie, you can acknowledge how we learned to grow the 3 Sister Crops and give appreciation for this incredible discovery that continues to be practiced and passed on.

Want to do more than just have a conversation about the 3 Sister Crops? If you have the outdoor space, plant beans, squash, and corn in May/June, and have your own mini-harvest next Fall!

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