How father and son help keep traditional white corn farming alive in Six Nations

A father and son in Six Nations of the Grand River, along with the Six Nations Farmer's Association, are keeping alive the tradition of white corn farming. They help run community corn fields where neighbours can come by and gather the crop important to Indigenous culture.

Community-based corn fields help everyone access white corn in the fall

Arthur Porter (left) and Jesse Porter (right) have off-farm jobs but pursue farming for the love of it, and as a way to support their community. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

A father and son in Six Nations of the Grand River are keeping the tradition of white corn farming alive through the generations.

Arthur Porter, who turns 80 this year, learned how to grow white corn from his own father and passed the knowledge on to his son, Jesse.

Both men have worked off-farm jobs, but pursue farming on the side for the love of it.

"Agriculture is my joy," explained Arthur Porter.

For the Porters, farming is also a way to help their neighbours.

The two men, along with other members of the Six Nations Farmers Association, help maintain a community corn field, where people can come by and pick as many cobs of white corn as they need.

"Some will just take a few cobs, and some will take 50, 100 cobs," said Jesse Porter. "It all depends on their family, their use, so it's open to everybody."

White corn has high protein content that makes it a dietary staple, said Jesse Porter. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

White corn is a staple food in Haudenosaunee culture. It contains higher levels of protein than does supermarket yellow corn, and is often used in corn soup and corn bread.

It also plays a role in traditional ceremonies, Jesse Porter said.

"Our community is one of the last few Native communities that still practice our ceremonies, teach our kids the ceremonies, so this is a part of the season of the corn," he said.

Although Arthur Porter said more and more people are starting to grow their own corn, most people simply don't have the resources to do it. The community corn fields fill that gap, especially for elders.

Some community members who've moved away will even return to Six Nations territory for the season, just to pick the corn.

"It keeps them connected to their roots," said Jesse Porter.

Community response

Art Porter said he still looks forward to planting corn every year, but is beginning to think about retirement. He wants to see the tradition of white corn farming continue through Jesse, and through others in the community.

So far, kids in the community seem interested. Field trips to the corn field are popular, and Arthur Porter said kids "make a good afternoon" of picking corn while their teachers explain the process behind it.

They also have a video available in local schools that teaches kids about how corn goes from field to table.

"I think it's something that should be continued by others, younger generations should step up and do it, I think that'd be wonderful ," said Arthur Porter.  

The corn harvest lasts through to the end of October.

Listen to Arthur and Jesse Porter explain why white corn is important.

This story was produced as part of a series about Indigenous food and food culture at harvest time. Hear more voices on Friday, Sept. 27 as CBC Kitchener-Waterloo and CBC Hamilton team up for CBC at Six Nations,