Native Village
Youth and Education news

April 1, 2012
Grant helps Oneida Tribe process, produce corn

Oneida Nation of Wisconsin: According to Oneida tradition, white corn has been a part of tribal culture since the world's creation, and a $30,700 grant will help keep it that way.

The Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin's agricultural program, Tsyunhehkwa, received the grant this week from First Nations Development Institute of Longmont, Colo., which supports initiatives that improve economic conditions for American Indians nationwide.

Tsyunhehkwa will use the money to buy a gravity box, a commercial dehydrator and vacuum sealer, said its director, Jeff Metoxen.

"This grant is going to help us process and preserve the corn better," Metoxen said.

Tsyunhehkwa grows and harvests organic white corn and produces a variety of corn products through methods ranging from ancient to modern, Metoxen said.  Staff members plant and harvest by hand, but they also use tractors.  They dry the corn by braiding and hanging it, and by using forced-air gravity boxes and commercial grade dehydrators.

The old methods are used to preserve and teach tradition, and the newer methods are used primarily for their practical value to produce products like corn soup, corn bread, hull corn and dehydrated corn, which are then sold through Tsyunhehkwa's retail operation, Metoxen said.

New, larger modern equipment will help the organization produce more product more efficiently, he said.

"We don't have to increase acreage at this point, but this will help us with preventing loss due to spoilage, and to process faster, more efficiently and more safely," he said.

Oneida white corn is used strictly for human consumption, not as livestock feed, but it has a moisture content that is too high to allow processing, Metoxen said.

The traditional drying method involved braiding and hanging the stalks to let some of the ears dry over time.  Tsyunhehkwa also uses a gravity box, which is a bin with a fan on the bottom.

Tsyunhehkwa needs another gravity box for more capacity but it also needs a large commercial dehydrator to replace the 16 or so small ones each about the size of a microwave oven to do the work more efficiently, Metoxen said.

Tsyunhehkwa has a vacuum sealer for canning, but it also is a small, microwave-sized unit that can't keep up with the scale of operation needed.

Aside from making the traditional food available to the tribe and teaching preparation methods, Tsyunhehkwa plans to invite members of other Wisconsin tribes to see and learn about the equipment so they can develop similar programs, Metoxen said.

Metoxen said he hopes the new equipment would be available in time for this fall's harvest.

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