Gardening at the Drake House

The gardens at the historic Drake House in myaamionki noošonke siipionki ‘Miami, OK,’ have provided food and an opportunity to experiment with and demonstrate various techniques for use in both small- and large-scale production. The Drake House property was added to the Tribal Registry of Historic Places in 2006 and has been home to many cultural events and activities for years. Over the past couple of years, the Natural Resources Office (NRO) staff of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma have been cultivating gardens, new projects, and community involvement to improve horticultural capabilities and establish greater food sovereignty. The employment of various gardening techniques and practices assumes the risks of experimentation to share reliable information with the community. This year it produced enough food that the Tribe hosted our first community food-sharing events. The purpose of the gardens is for knowledge sharing, skill sharing, food sharing, and growing food sovereignty.

In the spring of 2020, plans were developed, and modest efforts at container growing were initiated. In the following spring of 2021, a thorough cleanup ensued, and more designing and layout for the space began. The staff utilized experimental gardening methods to discover and develop best practices that can be shared with and adapted by community members. Each season provides opportunities to try new planting methods, refine the gardening process, observe what does and doesn’t work well, and continue cultivating a horticultural knowledge base. Even when a specific process might fail or prove unsuccessful, it provides more insight into what could work well and informs what to try next.

A close of up ripe and unripe tomatoes on the vine
Tomato plants at the Drake House Garden. Photo by Joshua Sutterfield

When walking around the gardens at the Drake House property, one will notice several different types of gardening methods being used. There are raised beds, container gardens, matted gardens, and trellis gardens. Raised beds allow plants to get started without flooding and allow the soil to be mixed with desired ratios of sand, soil, compost, and other materials. Containers and vertical gardening practices are easily adapted to urban garden settings where space can be limited. The hanging trellis system for tomatoes works very well since it supports vines, allows the plant to grow to its full potential, and makes the fruit more accessible. Utilizing containers, matting, and trellis systems increase space efficiency, manages irrigation, provides weed maintenance, and eliminates plant competition.

People harvesting strawberries
The strawberry plants at the Drake House Farm. Photo by Joshua Sutterfield

The white containers, which can be seen lined up in rows, are called RootTrappers, made by Root Maker. They were selected due to their unique “Air Pruning” technology that allows plants to grow more root mass. According to Natural Resources Officer and Second Chief Dustin Olds, “if they [plant’s roots] circle, they go around and around, and that is not good for the plant.” Air Pruning works by allowing airflow through tiny perforations in the container wall. When the root gets to the container’s edge, it becomes pruned by the air, and rather than circling around, it begins to grow smaller roots behind the pruned end, which creates greater overall root mass compared to conventional containers.

A child holding up a plastic bag with strawberries
A visitor with their harvested strawberries. Photo by Joshua Sutterfield

The garden produces beets, broccoli, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, jalapeños, kale, lettuce, Myaamia miincipi (Miami white corn), onions, potatoes, radishes, Swiss chard, squash, strawberries, cantaloupe, pumpkins, tomatoes, and zucchini and still has room to grow, trying new things each year. Some of the crops that Olds really hopes to focus on in the upcoming seasons are early- and late-season greens, melons, tomatoes, pumpkins, and Miami corn. Over the next few decades, plans include expanding the project to grow the Myaamia miincipi seed bank for cornmeal products and to grow enough produce to make healthy foods available to the Tribal community at a competitive price. Another very important element of the future food system will be to share gardening know-how for families to grow their own produce. Olds says, “Bottom line, it’s all about independence, and [food] sovereignty is a part of that.” He hopes that having a place to come and see these gardening practices in action will encourage and inspire community members to grow for their own families and others. The long-term goal is to create capability, resilience, and long-term sustainability while promoting food sovereignty and independence for the entire Tribe.

Containers on a counter with various produce
Harvested produce ready to be taken home. Photo by Joshua Sutterfield

Our first community food-sharing event was May 21, 2022, when around 40 Tribal members enjoyed a cookout and community harvest. All that came were able to see the gardens, enjoy fresh produce – as well as some of last year’s pickles – and take part in harvesting both food and knowledge over the course of the day. The strawberries were the most popular pick and continued to be the most popular produce at all food-sharing events that followed. As the garden continued to produce, we hosted a total of five more events from June 2 through July 7, sharing food with over twenty Tribal families over the summer.

Man in an apron serving dinner
Second Chief Dustin Olds serving dinner with the rest of the Business Committee at the 2020 Winter Gathering in Miami, Oklahoma. Photo by Jonathan M. Fox

The gardens will continue to grow and be a place to glean knowledge, gather the community, and reap the fruits of our labor. “I wanted to have really heavy community involvement,” said Olds, “… a community component where when we say we’re feeding ourselves, we’re feeding each other.” The gardening efforts may one day grow to include gardens at many other locations on Tribal lands. More importantly, they may inspire food production in the backyards, decks, and windowsills of Myaamia families.

One Comment Add yours

  1. jcannest says:

    A good book for this purpose is “MetroFarm” by Michael Kieth Olsen. It is on Google Books. Good info on those bag containers. I just bought sugar maple, walnut, black walnut, and pinion pine plugs. I’ll have to get some of them. Thanks!

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