Preschool Children Engaging in Indigenous Food Sovereignty: Planting and Harvesting Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

Preschool Children Engaging in Indigenous Food Sovereignty: Planting and Harvesting Potatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

By Katherine Friday
Photos courtesy of Jazeel Michel

“Food sovereignty is at the core of tribal sovereignty… My ancestor who signed the Medicine Creek Treaty made sure that access to native foods was ensured for generations to come. These foods have sustained our people’s physical health, cultural integrity and spiritual wellness since time immemorial.” (Quotation by Valerie Segrest, who helps coordinate the Muckleshoot Tribe’s Food Sovereignty Project, and is now with Feed Seven Generations, an organization focused on revitalizing native food culture in the Northwest.)

In alignment with the Northwest Indian College Early Learning Center’s Traditional Foods, Plants, and Medicines curriculum, children in the Preschool room recently planted potatoes and pumpkin seeds both in the classroom and in our Outdoor Learning Center play-scape. The children were bouncing with excitement, waiting to explore the organic materials and supplies for planting.

Recycled milk jugs, handfuls of soil, small bags of brown potatoes, a water pitcher, white construction paper, crayons/markers, and step by step pictures of how to plant a potato where displayed on the table. The children’s hands quickly explored each item as they moved down the table to begin their project. The children had time to look over the items and were asked open-ended questions to help with their experiential learning, which encouraged growth in the child’s mindset and personal responsibility.

After the children completed the step by step process of planting their potatoes, the potted potatoes where displayed in the center of the classroom for the children to water and observe daily. Through the children’s observation they could see that the stalks were getting very tall and falling over, so it was explained to the children about applying layers of soil to help the stalk stand tall. However, in a week or so we will have to transplant into even bigger containers!

The children were able to experience power of place through wonder and curiosity. Self-identity became part of this fun activity in a real and meaningful way. As the children tried to grasp handfuls of soil to fill their empty milk containers, they began to ask questions of How? What? When? and Where? Children wondered with excitement, “Teacher, teacher!!! How long will it take for the potatoes to grow? What do we do next? When can I water my potato? Where will the potatoes grow? How can I help my potato grow faster?” All of these questions foster critical thinking skills and constructivism.

Not only did these activities support cognitive and physical development, but they also supported social / emotional development as well. Our children in the preschool room had daily opportunities for exploration through play. The children were able to use their imagination in the dramatic play area where they cut up real potatoes for their potato soup. We invite you to come join us for a cup of soup, using potatoes harvested by the children in the preschool room, during these chilly winter months!