Growing Circle and 800 Year Old Seeds








The Growing Circle is a new group that has been meeting at the American Indian Center every Thursday to plan gardens, tap maples, and discuss food sovereignty. Utilizing social media and the AIC as a base, the goal of the Growing Circle is to empower people to harvest wild foods and cultivate nutritional goodness while building relationships with the land and people in the process.

Recently, the Growing Circle was gifted some very special seeds from Sue Menzel of Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe. What makes these seeds so special? Let’s see – they are 850 years old and once thought to be extinct! They came from an archeological dig in Menominee and the seeds were found in a clay pot with other seeds, and named Gete Okosomin (meaning “big old squash”) by Winona La Duke.

Many people don’t know this, but many of our traditional foods have been rendered extinct, largely due to modern agriculture’s industrial approach favoring a few cash crops over an entire variety of native fruits and vegetables. Critics also suggest that Genetically Modified Organisms, are also killing native seeds. That’s why, Gete Okosomin is something to celebrate. Every time someone successfully grows Gete Okosomin and saves the seeds, it’s a victory for our people.

Now, the Growing Circle is challenged to distribute the 850 year old squash seeds to members of the Growing Circle. Just to let you know, the Gete Okosomin is a mammoth of a squash, quite large and heavy. The plan is to establish traditional seven sisters garden beds among eligible Growing Circle members who have room for a garden and understand the importance of seeing that Gete Okosomin doesn’t become cross pollinated. The Growing Circle will be monitoring the progress of these gardens as a club and will share pictures via Facebook.

Besides planting Seven Sisters gardens, we’ll be doing some things we do every year, like working in the medicine garden and harvesting wild foods with the kids. Last year, we tapped maples for the first time and this year we’ve continued that old tradition, tapping a few maples around the center. We’re also encouraging folks to tap maples at home, too.

A few years back, the American Indian Center was awarded a plot of land at the Dunning Read Mental Health Facility on Irving Park and Oak Park. So far, we have used this plot of land to host Indigenous Science Days and to study land remediation. As far as wild foods to harvest at Dunning, you can find several edibles including Wild Plum, Cattails, and Milk Weed. The Growing Circle is also in the process of organizing work days to help in this development.

If you’re looking for something new, towards the end of spring, the Growing Circle will be helping to install and manage an Oak Savanna made up of a majority of native plants and wetland trees and shrubs. This plot of land is part of an agreement with Metra and the American Indian Center, to manage a site off the Metra line at Ravenswood and Wilson Avenue, 2 blocks west of the AIC.

There are some big things happening at the AIC, big 800 year old squash type things. If you’re interested in being a part of this revolutionary experience, join our Growing Circle group on Facebook or email us at We really need your help in making this circle grow. Miigwetch.

For more information about the Growing Circle, e-mail us at or join our Growing Circle page on Facebook.


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