Dream of Wild Health, a Project of Peta Wakan Tipi

Final Report for FNC03-480

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2003: $6,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $10,250.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Dream of Wild Health leases a small plot (< one acre) of land in Farmington on a small, organically certified farm. Heirloom crop varieties are planted in a diabetes garden and a propagation garden. The crops are grown according to traditional protocols of Indigenous people. These protocols include concepts of sustainable practice, including three sisters gardening, using traditionally made hand tools, hand pollinating corn to ensure varietal stability.

One of the goals of the DWHN is to address through sustainable agriculture practice the dramatic rise of diet-related chronic diseases in today’s society, especially for American Indian people. Consistent with his notion is a growing body of scientific evidence that consumption of grains, fruits and vegetables related to lower risk of chronic disease. Previous NCR-SARE funding supported nutrient and biochemical analyses of three heirloom crop varieties (Oneida hominy corn, Potowanami beans, and Arikara squash) grown by DWHN and analyzed in cooperation with the University of Minnesota and Medallion Laboratories. These foods were found to contain a wide variety of phytonurients including antioxidants. A very high level of antioxidant activity was associated with two varieties of native beans, compared to market varieties.

The goal of this project is for DWHN to grow and analyze the antioxidant activity of the eight varieties of indigenous beans in its possession. Given recent interest in reclaiming some of the traditional cultural practices and foods it is important to determine if high intrinsic antioxidant capacity is a ubiquitous feature of indigenous bean varieties. If so, incorporating high antioxidant foods like these native beans into the diet could greatly contribute to a person’s total daily antioxidant consumption and may have positive health implications.

Working in conjunction with the University of Minnesota Department of Food Science and Nutrition, DWHN has analyzed antioxidant capacity of its stock of indigenous beans. Beans were grown during the 2003 growing season. Two bean plants were sampled for each of eight DWHN varieties tested. DWHN assumed responsibility for growing the beans in accordance with appropriate indigenous protocols. Once grown, the beans were given to Dr. Craig Hassel, who supervised work done at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Hassel worked with Dr. Len Marquart, Dr. Gary Fulcher and Mr. Fred Ridelhof in assay of antioxidant activity by DPPH methodology.

Bean samples from each of two plants per bean variety were dried and ground immediately prior to bean analysis. Dried bean samples from each plant were subdivided into six determination assay sets. Reported values represent the means of the six determination sets for each plant, expressed in Trolox equivalents (TE) per 100 g sample.

Bean Sample, Plant #, Report
Black Turtle Bean, 2, 15300
00:100-1:72, 3, 14700

Cut Short Bean, 4, 10000
00:100-1:76, 6, 10400

Potawatomi Bean, 1, 15300
00:100-1:80, 5, 14400

Rabbit Bean, 1, 24100
00:100-1:79, 3, 24000

Red Bean, 1, 15400
00:100-1:80, 2, 15100

Seneca Bean, 2, 10600
00:100-1:70, 3, 10800

“Unknown” Bean, 1, 13600
00:100-1:74, 2, 9650

Women’s Yellow Bean, 1, 10700
00:100-1:78, 3, 11000

The results generally show that Indigenous bean varieties contain high levels of total antioxidant activity. As such, it is possible that these varieties may be useful source food in creating culturally acceptable, high nutrient food products to American Indian communities. Whether high antioxidant activity in a raw bean could be maintained in a finished product that American Indian consumers find acceptable to taste remains is to be determined. Even so, the health benefits of consuming such a product would require further study.

The one variety common to both tests is the Potowanami lima bean. In the first NCRSARE project, the Potowanami lima bean tested out at 22,470 TE/100g, compared to 14,850 TE/100g for the most recent NCRSARE project. Unfortunately, the reasons for this discrepancy are still unclear. The DPPH assay was methodologically identical, yet conducted in two separate laboratories. The 22,470 figure was obtained at Medallion Labs of General Mills using two assay determination sets per sample, while the 14,850 was derived at the University of Minnesota, using six sets per sample. The two technicians who conducted these assays are in close contact and have discussed this matter without reconciliation. It is possible that some of the difference could be accounted for by assay variation in the two different locations. It remains possible that different growing years, and climatic conditions may be contributed to these differences.

Over the past century, crop breeding and production strategies have been largely driven by agribusiness concerns over cost, improved yield and processing qualities. On these fronts, tremendous gains have been made. But only recently has nutrition science advanced to the point where more subtle bioactive properties of food crops are recognized and investigated. The dramatic increase in prevalence of diet related chronic diseases has refocused attention on the diversity (or lack thereof) in our cropping systems and germplasm. From the context of nutritional value and chronic disease prevention, what qualities might we have lost over the past 100 years? Similar to the findings for beans reported here, other results have shown higher antioxidant capacity in wild berries compared to domesticated varieties. This small project offers another opportunity to demonstrate nutritional qualities of foods that may be unintended consequences for domestication processes.

The results of these studies has been presented at a conference entitled “Sharing Indigenous Wisdom: An International Dialogue on Sustainable Development” hosted by the College of Menominee Nation, Green Bay WI, June 7-11, 2004 and at First Nations Food Summit, Creating a Recipe for Change, September 9-11, 2004, Milwaukee WI.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.