Regenerative Farming Is Buzzy Now, But It’s Nothing New For Native Americans

Angie Comeaux shares what her version of agriculture looks like and what most Americans get wrong about Thanksgiving.
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Illustration: Chris McGonigal/HuffPost; Photos: Angela Comeaux/Getty Images

Spread out across dozens of acres in Florala, Alabama, is Hvrvnrvcukwv Ueki-Honecv Farm, also known as Hummingbird Springs Farm. Agricultural practices there are a stark contrast to what’s done at conventional farms, yet words like “organic” or “regenerative” aren’t used. For Indigenous growers, there’s simply no other way to farm. In this edition of Voices in Food, Angie Comeaux, who oversees Hummingbird Springs, reveals what it’s truly like to live this way and shares her hopes for the future of the farm. All ideas expressed here are her own, and are not meant to represent all Indigenous people.

My days start early and end late. I wake at daybreak so I can get up with the sunrise, and the first thing I do after getting dressed is feed the chickens. Then, I walk around the 31 acres that make up Hvrvnrvcukwv Ueki-Honecv Farm, or Hummingbird Springs Farm, and check on the plants. After my farm chores, I head to work. I am also in school, so my days are full. But afterward, in the evening, I come home and do more farm chores before heading to bed.

“I’m glad there is more interest in this way of farming. But what bothers me is when people act like they are the ones who came up with it, when this approach to farming is how Native folks have always lived.”

My partner and I acquired Hummingbird Springs about two years ago. Before that, it was a peanut farm, and before that, it was a cattle farm. When we acquired it, the land hadn’t been farmed in seven years, so the soil was pretty depleted. Our first priority was to build the soil back up and create a food forest. A food forest uses Indigenous agriculture techniques to plan annual and perennial crops.

Most modern farms in the U.S. practice monocropping, which is when only one type of crop is grown continuously on the same land. The opposite of that is intercropping, which is when multiple types of crops are grown close to each other, and that’s what we do at Hummingbird Springs. We’re focused on biodiversity and growing plants native to the region of the farm. For us, these include several different types of trees such as papaw, walnut, mulberry, pecan, hawthorn and various kinds of oak and hickory nut trees.

We also have plants that are culturally and spiritually important to the Native tribes in the area. I’m three different tribes: Muscogee, Cherokee and Choctaw. This year we planted 118 new species, and last year we planted over 130 species. All the plants on the farm thrive without pesticides or anything that wouldn’t occur naturally.

This way of life naturally produces organic food, and it’s also regenerative. Now increasingly popular across the U.S., regenerative farming emulates what happens in nature; it is a step beyond sustainability and gives to the land instead of taking away from it. I’m glad there is more interest in this way of farming. But what bothers me is when people act like they are the ones who came up with it, when this approach to farming is how Native folks have always lived.

“For many people in the U.S., Thanksgiving is the one time of year when they sit down and really think about where their food is coming from, giving thanks over it. This is not how most Native people live.”

Animals and plants are sacred to Native people. We believe that all animals and plants are beings and that we must respect and take care of these beings. Our entire agricultural framework is shaped by this belief. We would never desecrate or pour chemicals on something that is sacred to us. We rely on nature and do what’s best to take care of it.

The belief that all animals and plants are beings also means that we don’t believe in charging money for them. That would place a monetary value on a being, which automatically devalues it. It can be hard to explain this way of life to non-Native people because it’s so different from modern farming. But for our people, this is how it’s always been done from the beginning of time, and it will always be done this way until the end of time.

For many people in the U.S., Thanksgiving is the one time of year when they sit down and really think about where their food is coming from, giving thanks over it. This is not how most Native people live. For most of us, thanksgiving is part of how we live every day, and we are always mindful of where our food is coming from as we are deeply connected to the land.

Personally, I do not celebrate Thanksgiving, although some Indigenous people do. The history of the Indigenous U.S. has been whitewashed in history books and school curriculums. Indigenous people have historically been subjected to acts of genocide. A lot of Native people have had to assimilate for survival purposes, hiding their identity. This year on Thanksgiving, I will get up at daybreak. I will feed the chickens and check on the crops. I will be thankful for this land, as I am every day.

My hope for Hummingbird Springs Farm is to build an intentional community. My partner and I are hoping to develop an agrarian trust, which would ensure that the farm and everything it produces are available to the community and to local Indigenous people. We want to host free workshops where we teach people to reclaim agricultural and cultural practices that have been asleep in the area for many years, like food preservation and textile weaving. Eventually, we want to set up a barter system in which the food being produced is available to people who need it and not for profit.

We want to foster the community of the plants and animals on the land too, increasing biodiversity and saving endangered species that live on the farm. But our biggest goal is to teach people how to live right with the land. With this mindset, so many beautiful things can grow.

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