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Annual Blue Corn Harvest honors Indigenous traditions on the Western Slope

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HESPERUS, Colo. — Leaves are changing, the sun sets earlier and there is a chill in the morning air. Fall has arrived.

The new season also means an end to the growing season. To mark the occasion, members of the farmer-in-training program at Fort Lewis College gathered at the Old Fort in Hesperus, Colorado, for the Blue Corn Harvest on Oct. 5.

This year marked the third annual Blue Corn Harvest, an event organized by Fort Lewis College in collaboration with the college’s Native American Center.

After a long season of tending to the corn, it was finally time to harvest. Medicine man Matthew White began the Blue Corn Harvest ceremony with an hour-long blessing.

“Harvesting is a blessing in itself,” White said.

Most of the ceremony took place in maroon yurt sitting on a four-stair wooden platform. The yurt faced west toward the Old Fort, which was once an Indian Boarding School.

[Watch: Colorado Voices: An Indian Boarding School] 

Elicia Whittlesey was in attendance. She is the program coordinator for the farmer training program.

“In the past two years, we've grown corn together, framed by planting workshops and harvest workshops,” Whittlesey said. “And I think that it's been really important to bring Indigenous foods and Indigenous practices to this site.”

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The training program at the Old Fort supports Native and Indigenous farmers and uses Indigenous techniques. Grants for the farmers are provided by the national Native American Agriculture Fund, and the food is donated to the Native American Center.

Brandon Francis, a Fort Lewis College graduate who is now the education resource coordinator at New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center, shared his knowledge of growing corn with the other attendees. Francis has been instructing the staff of the farmer training program about traditional planting practices from the Diné people. His focus is often on corn, but he also understands what other produce to plant with it.

“In the wintertime, in the fall time, that's when we let the land rest and rejuvenate,” Francis explained.

Whittlesey ended the event by welcoming people to take some corn and encouraging them to save some for next year.

“We were sitting there in the yurt together. I was thinking, ‘Okay, this is kind of like a pass off,’” Whittlesey said. “We’re bringing in the harvest together and then sending it on its way to, again, one of those kind of unknown moments … to go nourish so many different people who we may never meet, who will hopefully be touched by it or just enjoy it in some way.”


Bean Yazzie is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach them at beanyazzie@rmpbs.org.

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