Iroquois White Corn Project

White Corn Project History

The Iroquois White Corn Project, originally Pinewoods Community Farming, 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 has been returned to its original home, Ganondagan.

Pinewoods Community Farming was set up at the Cattaraugus Reservation 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 at the Pinewoods Cafe where patrons could watch the cooking and processing.

The 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 food staples for a thousand or more years. Dr. Mohawk was very concerned about Native nutrition and the diabetes epidemic. Making a slow food like white corn easily available again was his effort to address health. But, he had a greater vision for the place of corn.

For John Mohawk, the white corn project was a model that could return not only physical health but spiritual nutrition to the Ongwehonwe (Original People). Dr. Mohawk believed that if people were to taste the variety of corn dishes created by the many chefs with whom Pinewoods collaborated, the project would create an enormous demand both 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 consuming a variety of corn dishes in their daily diet. To support this, he cultivated a wide market for the corn in the culinary world where chefs integrated 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 beyond local communities.

The project had support of several outside organizations whose involvement provided needed funding as well as publicity that created demand for corn. A collaborative effort began with the Collective Heritage Institute (CHI) to create a new market in well-known restaurants, and establish relationships with world-class chefs. With CHI's help, an aggressive marketing campaign began, and the project was featured in numerous magazines and newspapers. To further develop the project, First Nations Development Institute provided multiple-year grants. As one of the original Bioneers, Dr. Mohawk's frequent speaking engagements and articles stimulated interest, support, and sales.

Well over 100 restaurants and retail marketplaces used the products, and hundreds of individual consumers bought the corn. Unfortunately, the project did not survive the deaths of its founders in 2005 and late 2006. The project remained dormant until Peter Jemison, Ganondagan State Historic Site Manager, made the decision to move the Iroquois White Corn Project back to Ganondagan.