Reflections: Food Team (2015)

Our team’s reflections on what we learned in the Museum Anthropology course project:

  • We were initially struck by how intact the corn/Zea mays in the museum collection was. We compared it to the corn we were used to eating, but as the semester has progressed, we have learned that corn is so much more than something to eat. Corn as not just an object, but a part of the Hopi way of life. Hopi people treat corn as if it is their child, by taking care of and making sure it grows fully and is well cared for.
  • We were also struck by–what the collection told us was–rosemary mint. The field notes and letters from Don Talayesva told us this “rosemary mint” was used for flavoring, and Hopi elementary school children confirmed that it’s still in use today. We also learned how herbs were grown in the wild and in naturally irrigated community gardens.
  • We learned just how proud the Hopi are in the things they grow, and what a collaborative effort farming is.
  • We learned that that many Hopi people are worried about the future of Hopi farming, but both the 4th graders and the Hopi women we talked showed us how knowledgeable many Hopi youth are about farming and plants in general.

Conversations: Wild Food Team (2015)

From the anthropologists’ notes we learned that Hopi women and men in the 1930s had very different roles in farming: men worked in the fields, while women stayed close to home, planting in small gardens and harvesting wild plants near the village. Through conversation with two women from Hopi, we learned that this division of labor is actually more complicated.

Men continue to farm and take great pride in the cleanliness (weeding) and productivity (crop size, variety and yield). Today, some Hopi women also farm as a way of providing fresh produce for their families and to inspire their children to participate in farming. One of the women told us how her pre-teen son had his own field and took great pride in carrying on his family’s farming tradition.  Women continue to plant in the community gardens near the villages that are irrigated by natural springs.  These gardens are places where women meet, share gardening tips, and help each other.

We also talked to First Mesa fourth grade students. We were impressed by how excited they were to talk about plants and how proud they were to share their knowledge.  One child told us about the plant he collected to make tea; what it tasted like, and how good it felt on a sore throat. When we asked about the mint plant  that was in the collection, the fourth graders were all enthusiastic about collecting and using the mint for flavoring!

It was very rewarding to see that our collections here at University of Michigan can help preserve wild plants that are still being used today by the Hopi community in meals and ceremonies.

Collections: Wild Plants Team (2015)

The two wild plant items that sparked interest for us were the Zea mays (commonly called corn or maize) and the Poliomintha incana, or Rosemary Mint, which were collected from Navajo County in Arizona in 1935.

2015 womens wild plants

Items examined by the Wild Plants Team

Looking at the maize, we thought that it was probably not yet completely ripe because there is a gradual increase in size of the kernels at the bottom of the cob.  It may have been harvested before it was fully grown.  The color of the maize is an even, pale yellow, and dimples have formed in the kernels.  It’s cut off at the shank (where the stem meets the husk) and what remains of the stalk is light green.

As we reached for the box of Rosemary Mint, we could smell its bright tangy aroma before we even got close enough to see its tiny buds and leaves. It was amazing to see that after 80 years, the smell was still so potent — we could imagine using this herb today!  The rosemary stalks are tied together in a bundle by a strip of fabric, presumably untouched since the time of collection.