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Oklahoma Agriculture in the Classroom


Native Agriculture

Oklahoma's Native American population is the largest in the United States. Up to 67 different tribes are represented here. At least three tribes, the Caddo, Wichita, and Osage, were growing corn, beans and squash along Oklahoma's river bottoms as many as 400 years ago. The people who populated the area around the ancient Spiro Mounds were also farmers, part of a large civilization that extended into the Easter Woodlands. Other groups of people started migrating here on horseback from the Northern Plains about 200 years later to hunt bison. Many of the tribes were moved here forcibly from their ancestral homes east of the Mississippi River to make room for European settlers who were moving west.

Eastern Woodlands Tribes

The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Muscogee/Creek originated in the Eastern Woodlands of the US - millions of acres of primeval forests. Before they were farmers, they moved from one part of their home range to another, taking advantage of the seasonal availability of grasses, fruits, nuts, fish and game.

Around 4,000 BC shoals and lakes began to develop, and the abundance of wild seed plants, shellfish, fish and animals such as deer and raccoon encouraged people to settle down in permanent river valley settlements. For thousands of years, women had collected wild plants studied the life cycles and habits of the nut trees and seed plants. Now in the rich soils of their permanent settlements, they began to experiment with plant domestication. Sunflower, marsh elder, goosefoot and wild gourd were most successful. They produced highly nutritious seeds and provided a dependable food supply that could be stored for late winter use. Other crops included goosefoot, erect knotweed, little barley and maygrass

Three Sisters

Three beautiful women came to their dwellings on a snowy night. One was a tall woman dressed all in yellow, with long flowing hair. The second wore green, and the third was robed in orange. The three came inside to shelter by the fire. Food was scarce but the visiting strangers were fed generously, sharing in the little that the people had left. In gratitude for their generosity, the three sisters revealed their true identities-corn, beans, and squash-and gave themselves to the people in a bundle of seeds so that they might never go hungry again.
- from Kimmerer, Robin Wall, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Milkweed, 2015.

Three Sisters
Grades 3-5 ELA, Sci, SS, Health
Students will learn about the American Indian agricultural practice of Three Sisters planting. They will track food choices and make healthier food choices by eating more vegetables.
Cherokee Farming
Grades 3-4: ELA, SS, Sci
Students read about farming among the Cherokees and compare farming before and after the removal to Indian Territory from their home lands in the east. Students will make a timeline of the foods adopted by the Cherokee. Students will research to learn more about the Cherokee. Students will conduct experiments with heirloom seeds.
Choctaw Farming
Grades 3-4: Social Studies, Science
Students will read about farming among the Choctaw. Students will examine contributions of different cultures to Choctaw agriculture. Students will work together to develop imaginary bean hybrids.
Plows on the Hunting Grounds
Grades 9-12: ELA, Social Studies
Students learn about the Indian Allotment Act of 1887, which paved the way for opening Indian land to homesteading.
Potawatomi Farming
Students will read about early farming among the Potawatomi people and compare two stories about maple syrup. Students will learn that maple syrup is not sweet when it comes from the tree and conduct an experiment to find what percentage of sugar makes a substance taste sweet. Students will evaporate sugar water to demonstrate how the sap from a maple tree can become sugar.
Spiro Farming - Corn, Squash and Beans Build a Mighty Trade Center
High School: Social Studies, ELA
Students will read about farming practices among the people who populated the area around Spiro Mounds. Students will research to learn more about Spiro culture and other prehistoric farming cultures in Oklahoma. Students will identify the region in the US occupied by Mississippian culture. Students will trace the trade route along rivers and tributaries that joined Spiro with Mississippian ceremonial centers back east. Students will design experiments to demonstrate how agriculture might have started.
Thanksgiving - Celebrating the Harvest
Grade 4-5: SS, ELA, Sci
Before the Pilgrims had their famous Thanksgiving feast in 1621, native people all over the continent had been holding their own feasts of thanksgiving for the harvest for thousands of years.
Agriculture in Art
Pashofa is a soupy dish made from cracked white corn, also known as pearl hominy. The dish is one of the most important to the Chickasaw people and has been served at ceremonial and social events for centuries. Pashofa is also used in specific healing ceremonies.
Traditionally, dried corn was ground in a mortar into cornmeal and cooked in a pot with water. Finely cut pieces of pork or beef was added. The dish was served cold and could keep up to a month.
Specialized paddles and spoons, carved from wood or animal horns, were used in stirring, serving, and eating pashofa. Pashofa was cooked in giant bowls, often over an open fire outdoors.
The Timeless Dish of Pashofa (video from
Bruchac, Joseph, and Murv Jacob, The Circle of Thanks: Native American Poems and Songs of Thanksgiving, Troll, 2003. (Grades 1-5)
Bruchac gathers 14 traditional Native American poems of appreciation and respect for nature's gifts. It is a wide sampling, drawn from Cherokee, Kwakiutl, Pawnee, Navajo and more.
Glatzer, Jenna, Native American Festivals and Ceremonies, Mason Crest, 2002.
Describes some of the ceremonies and festivals that Native American peoples use to celebrate special occasions, give thanks, etc.
Goble, Paul, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, Atheneum, 2001. (Grades K-2)
For most people, being swept away in a horse stampede during a raging thunderstorm would be a terrifying disaster. For the young Native American girl in Paul Gobl''s 1979 Caldecott-winning masterpiece, The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, it is a blessing. Although she loves her people, this girl has a much deeper, almost sacred, connection to her equine friends. The storm gives her the opportunity to fulfill her dream -to live in a beautiful land among the wild horses she loves. With brilliant, stylized illustrations and simple text, Paul Goble tells the story of a young woman who follows her heart and the family that respects and accepts her uniqueness.
Grace, Catherine O'Neill, 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, National Geographic Children's, 2004. (Grades 3-5)
Well-researched account of the Wampanoag side of the Thanksgiving story. Provides background on the Wampanoag, colonization, Indian diplomacy, the harvest of 1621 and the evolution of the Thanksgiving story.
Gregory, Kristiana, The Legend of Jimmy Spoon, Graphia, 2002. (Young Adult)
Twelve-year-old Jimmy Spoon yearns for a life of adventure. So when two Shoshoni boys offer him a horse, Jimmy sneaks away from his family in Salt Lake City to follow the boys. When Jimmy arrives at the Shoshoni camp, he discovers that he is expected to stay - as a member of the tribe. Inspired by the memoirs of a white man who actually lived with Chief Washakie's tribe as a boy in the mid-1800s, The Legend of Jimmy Spoon is a compelling coming-of-age adventure.
Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane, and Lawrence Migdale, Buffalo Days, Holiday House, 1997. (Grades 4-6).
Portrait of a young Crow Indian boy - Clarence Three Irons, Jr., a.k.a. Indian - living in Lodge Grass, Montana. Indian's father raises cattle and horses, and manages the Crow buffalo herd. The buffalo has always been a critical element in Crow culture and the herd's return from near- extinction is an important link for the Crow with their past. The ways in which the Crow have preserved and extended their cultural heritage is Hoyt-Goldsmith's focus, including the annual round-up reflecting the grand buffalo days - the fair and rodeo offering a chance to build and camp in tipis, don ceremonial garb, and attend to sacred dances.
Keoke, Emory Dean, and Kay Marie Porterfield, Food, Farming, and Hunting (American Indian Contributions to the World), Facts on File, 2005. Grades 4 and up
By the time European conquistadores and colonizers arrived in the Americas, starting in 1492, American Indians had already invented sophisticated hunting and fishing technology. They gathered hundreds of plants for food, fiber, and medicine, and first domesticated three-quarters of the food crops raised in the world today. The volume identifies the many foods North American, Mesoamerican, and South American Indians gathered, discusses the birth of agriculture in the Americas, and describes the plants that were eventually domesticated and farmed. Later developments and improvements in farming, such as irrigation and the use of fertilizer, are also covered.
Miller, Brandon Marie, Buffalo Gals: Women of the Old West, Lerner, 1997. (Grades 4-7)
Miller's book acquaints children with a historically accurate picture of the daily life of 19th Century women of the western frontier. Without neglecting the story of the Native American women who lived on the frontier, Miller catches both the bone-wearying labor and the excitement that sometimes made living in the West worthwhile. She augments her text with excerpts from journals and memoirs as well as photographs from regional archives, which are especially effective because the images are not familiar ones.
Nielsen, L. Michelle, Biography of Corn, Craptree, 2007. (Grades 4-6)
Maize, or corn, was the staple food of many early cultures in South America, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. This book shows how the farming of corn spread to the rest of the world.
San Souci, Robert, Cut From the Same Cloth; American Women of Myth, Legend and Tall Tale, Putnam Juvenile, 2000. (Grades 3-8)
The women come from the Native American, African American, Mexican American, and Canadian traditions. Although they differ in many ways from their male counterparts, there are still tricksters, sweet talkers, and brave and strong protagonists like those found in hero stories. There has been some retelling, some modifications of dialects, some reshaping of open endings, but the plots have not been tampered with. Each story is illustrated with an engraving of some sort, with black background and white lines that give the pictures an antique quality like a woodcut or copper engraving. Notes on the stories and an extensive list of further reading are appended.
St. Antoine, Sara (editor), and Trudy Nicholson and Paul Mirocha, The Great North American Prairie: Stories from Where We Live, Milkweed, 2004.
Stories, poems, journal entries and essays that reflect life on the prairies of the US and Canada. The selections, both historical and contemporary, comprise a good mix of fiction and information and reflect the ethnic diversity of the inhabitants. Includes familiar authors such as Carl Sandburg, Willa Cather, and Louise Erdrich, as well as lesser-known writers. Includes maps, a detailed discussion of different kinds of prairies, listings of flora and fauna, etc.
Tingle, Tim, and Jeanne Rorex Bridges, Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom, Cinco Puntos, 2006. (Grades 2-6)
In the days before the War Between the States, and the days before the Trail of Tears, a Mississippi Choctaw girl strays across the Bok Chitto River into the world of Southern Plantations where she befriends a slave boy and his family. When trouble comes, the desperate runaways flee to freedom, helped by the Choctaws' secret route across the river. Includes sophisticated end notes about Choctaw history and storytelling traditions.
Waldman, Stuart, We Asked for Nothing: The Remarkable Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, Mikaya, 2003. (Grades 4-6)
Conquistador Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his men were shipwrecked on an island shore off the coast of Texas in 1528. Local Indians brought them food and water and cared for them. Cabeza de Vaca lived among native tribes in the Southwest for eight years as he and three others walked toward the Spanish settlements in what is now Mexico. Enduring starvation, illness, and enslavement, they survived largely through the kindness of the Indians they met along the way. A foldout map traces the journey on land and sea.