Pinewoods Community Farming, or the Iroquois White Corn Project, began as the vision of Drs. John Mohawk and Yvonne Dion-Buffalo. Their desire to bring Iroquois White Corn back as a staple of the Haudenosaunee diet, not something consumed occasionally or simply at appropriate ceremonial times, began a decade-long project that now leads to our re-imagination of the project at Ganondagan State Historic Site.
Project goals included creating a sustainable market for farmers who could then grow larger quantities of white corn annually; stimulating demand for white corn through the introduction of new dishes and uses; and encouraging greater consumption of what has been one of our traditional staple foods for a thousand or more years. Dr. Mohawk was very concerned about Native nutrition and the epidemic of diabetes. Making a slow food like white corn easily available again was an effort on his part to address health. But, his vision for the place of corn was fuller. For John Mohawk, the white corn project was a model that could return not only physical health but a spiritual nutrition to the Ongwehowne (Real People).
Dr. Mohawk believed that if people were to taste a variety of corn dishes influenced by the many chefs Pinewoods collaborated with, the project would not be able to keep up with demand in Native communities and in the larger American culture. He envisioned Haudenosaunee farmers supporting their families through primary jobs farming white corn and Haudenosaunee families eating a variety of corn dishes as part of their daily diet. To support this, he cultivated a wide market for the corn in the culinary world where chefs integrate this aromatic ancient corn into their cooking. The project addressed several points of economic development and nutritional and cultural education, all supported by stimulating the market outside local communities.
Pinewoods Community Farming was set up at Cattaraugus in a small cabin belonging to Dr. Mohawk’s family. From 1997 to 2006, corn was grown in the field next door, stored in a corn crib out front, processed in the upgraded kitchen, and served at times in Pinewoods Café where patrons could watch the cooking and processing.
The project had support of several outside organizations whose involvement provided needed funding as well as publicity that created demand for corn. The project began a collaborative effort with the Collective Heritage Institute (CHI) to create a new market in well-known restaurants and relationships with world-class chefs. Through the help of CHI, an aggressive marketing campaign began. The project was featured in numerous magazines and newspapers. In addition to CHI’s help, First Nations Development Institution provided multiple-year grants to further develop the project. Dr. Mohawk was also one of the original Bioneers, and his frequent speaking engagements and articles stimulated interest, support, and sales.
Many have aided in the continuity of the project over the years: Lance Hemlock, Arthur Mangan, Lois Lipman, Lori Taylor, Kevin White, Taylor Chamberlain, Roberta Huff, and Sharon Huff. This does not even include many chefs and other supporters who became champions of this corn.
Pinewoods Community Farming sold many hundreds of bushels of corn—whole corn (hominy), roasted corn, and ground corn (tamal flour). Well over one hundred restaurants and retail marketplaces used the products offered by Pinewoods Community Farming, and hundreds of individual consumers bought the corn. Unfortunately, the project did not survive the deaths of the founders in 2005 and late 2006.
Since then, the project has been dormant until Peter Jemison, Site Manager at Ganondagan State Historic Site, made the decision to move the Iroquois White Corn Project to Ganondagan to produce a stream of income for the Friends of Ganondagan who support the special events at the site.