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Long before European settlers plowed the Plains, corn was an important part of the diet of Native American tribes like the Omaha, Ponca and Cherokee. Today, members of some tribes are hoping to revive their food and farming traditions by planting the kinds of indigenous crops their ancestors once grew.

Taylor Keen is hoping to lead that comeback in Nebraska. On a warm, bright September afternoon, Keen is singing to the corn. Walking through a maze of corn rows and a carpet of pumpkin vines behind his home in Omaha, Neb., he wears a cowboy hat, Wranglers and a traditional bead necklace.

“Well, this is what was formerly known as my backyard and is now home to the ‘four sisters,’ ” Keen says. “We have corn, bean, squash and the sunflower.”

He calls them the four sisters because of how they work together. The beans fertilize the corn as they climb the stalks. Sunflowers hold them up against the wind. Squash keep the raccoons at bay. There are also tomatoes, okra, gourds, sage and sweet grass.

Tribes Revive Indigenous Crops, And The Food Traditions That Go With Them

Photos: Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media

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I HAVE NEVER CONNECTED WITH A CHARACTER MORE IN MY WHOLE LIFE. I LOVE GROWING SQUASH SO MUCH MY FRIENDS LITERALLY CALL ME SQUASHY BOI THIS IS A GREAT DAY SQUASH IS MY FAVORITE CHARACTER OF ALL TIME THANK YOU CREWNIVERSE BRB GOING TO BUY SOME OVERALLS 

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Laura Russo collected these lovely squash bees (Peponapis pruinosa) near State College, Pennsylvania. Aptly named, this bee only feeds its young on the pollen of Cucurbita (pumpkins, squash, gourds and the like). This plant genus is native to the hemisphere….peaking in numbers in the Mexican highlands, but does not occur naturally in Pennsylvania (too cold). However because we keep planting pumpkins and squash each year, our squash bee friends are sustained, and probably have been since Indians brought squash into the area many centuries ago.

Which is a good thing since they are very effective pollinators given that they are out at dawn (when almost no other bees are out) and active until squash plants close their blooms around 9 a.m. They are tight like ticks with Curcubits.