Traditional Mvskoke Foods Recovery Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2011: $9,964.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Southern
State: Oklahoma
Principal Investigator:
Stephanie Berryhill
Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative


  • Agronomic: corn
  • Vegetables: cucurbits


  • Production Systems: holistic management


    Increased production, availability of seeds, and consumption of two traditional Mvskoke tribal crops -- sofke (osafke) corn and Indian pumpkin -- was implemented at Wilson Community in Okmulgee County, Okla. This project was conducted with the support of two local farmers through one plot located in Wilson Community and one plot near Bristow, Okla., in Creek County. Training was a considerable part of this project and was accomplished through seed saving and cooking demonstration classes that were held at Wilson Indian Community Center.


    Ancient stories offer reverence for sustenance given by Mvskoke Corn Grandmother and ceremonies still acknowledge this gift through Green Corn ceremonies today. At the start of this project it was believed that Mvskoke people had stopped growing sofke corn around 40 years ago. One of the biggest obstacles to growing this corn was access to seed. Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative (MFSI), as an organization, had been in err regarding the extremely limited availability of this seed for planting. There is no descriptive phenotype for sofke corn, although it would have useful been in identifying and locating a related variety that could be grown and tested as a substitute for the traditional sofke corn drink. The ideal situation in terms of sofke seed for planting would have been a seed donation by a Mvskoke elder who had kept seed that had been grown by family members. The very limited amount of sofke corn that was in the possession of MFSI was utilized for planting. By the end of this project, staff were able to identify a source for what is believed to be original sofke corn that was grown by Mvskoke people after arrival in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Furthermore, one elder couple that continues to grow this corn has been identified and they are willing to donate some of this seed to MFSI. This was possible through the work of interviewing elders on their knowledge of food ways as well as local family growing practices and histories.
    Indian pumpkin belongs to the gourd family and is indigenous to the Americas; it has been cultivated by ancestors of the Mvskokvlke for over 4,000 years. Indian pumpkin is highly endangered in terms of accessibility, which directly stems to availability of seed, a pass-along variety, for planting. There are very few farmers that continue to grow Indian pumpkin in the Muscogee Nation today. There are genetically-related varieties from the Cucurbita moschata species, such as Buckskin, Kentucky Field, and Seminole Pumpkin, which is also endangered. Even though there are genetically related varieties that can be more easily accessed, elders know that there is a distinct difference between these varieties and that of the texture and taste of "Indian" pumpkin meat. There is much value in revitalizing this particular variety of pumpkin in terms of its nutrients and the health benefits that it has the potential to contribute to a tribal group that has a disproportionate incidence of diet-related diseases when compared to the rest of the population. Both sofke corn and Indian pumpkin originate from seed lines that began in southeastern tribal homelands and have continued as a part of Mvskoke food ways today. Sofke corn and Indian pumpkin are of significant nutritional and cultural value and represent sustenance that is revered through language, stories, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that contribute to the larger value systems of the Mvskokvlke.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1 included growing plots of two traditional crops -- hominy or sofke corn and Indian pumpkin using modern equipment and conventional plant/row spacing. Objective 2 included training community growers about seed saving techniques and to save 10 pounds of seeds from each crop for free distribution to other communities and families for the 2013 growing season. Objective 3 included working with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Food and Fitness Policy Council to engage tribal government leaders, local farmers, and tribal nutrition program providers (elderly nutrition program, child care, etc.) to incorporate support for local farmers to grow traditional crops through a procurement policy for local, sustainably produced farm products. Objective 4 included utilizing traditional knowledge of tribal elders to teach preparation of Indian pumpkin and sofke corn dishes, especially to young mothers and other youth, by holding four cooking classes at Wilson Indian Community Center. Objective 5 included the collection and publication of stories about traditional foods in the MFSI newsletter. This was done in order to increase awareness of the cultural and nutritional significance of Indian pumpkin and sofke corn as well as to motivate people to add such foods to their diets.

    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.