“Early European settlers would certainly never have survived without the gift of the Three Sisters from the Native Americans, the story behind America’s Thanksgiving celebration.”
When the Pilgrims reached the shore of America in the winter of 1620, they stepped into a harsh and desolate landscape. The site of their future colony was a rocky windswept beach rising up to a dark and forbidding forest. The Pilgrims knew they must somehow grow crops on this rugged land, and quickly, if they hoped to survive.
The local people, the Indian Squanto, introduced them to the three sisters – which saved their lives!
Three leadership insights from the three sisters at the First Thanksgiving:
- When you move into a new environment, listen to the old wisdom of the local people.
- If you want the best for yourself and for your partners, there is nothing better than win-win-win collaborations – like the three sisters’ collaboration.
- Do not rely only on yourself and your own strength, but on God and his wonders.
The Story behind …
The Pilgrims were not experienced farmers, and this was unfamiliar soil and climate. They had no draft animals to pull a plow, and only a few simple tools to break the ground. However, despite these shortcomings, by the following fall, the Pilgrims had grown enough vegetables to hold a three day feast, the First Thanksgiving, to thank God for their bounty. They had even preserved enough food to last them another six months. So, how did the Pilgrims accomplish this remarkable feat of agriculture?
The familiar legend tells how the Indian Squanto taught the Pilgrims to plant corn with fish buried beneath as fertilizer. However, that is not the complete story. If the Pilgrims had simply planted a straight-row monoculture of corn, the crop very likely would have failed. What Squanto actually taught the Pilgrims was how to plant corn, beans, and squash together, in a companion planting technique called the Three Sisters. It was Three Sisters gardens that produced such a bounty of vegetables for the Pilgrims.
The Three Sisters are corn, beans, and squash planted in intensive companion gardens. The bean vines climb up the corn stalks as a trellis, and the squash and pumpkin plants cover the soil as living green mulch.
Beans are a nitrogen fixer; they fertilize the corn as they grow. The squash leaves choke out weeds, keep the soil cool and moist, and provide a sanctuary for beneficial predators. The gardens are dense and lush, and the plants ripen in continual successive waves. Of particular importance to Pilgrim and Indian farmers, corn, beans, and squash are highly nutritious. When eaten together, the Three Sisters are a complete and balanced meal, rich in carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. And these foods store well for long periods of time.
All three sisters are necessary to get this result. Any combination of only two of the three sisters would not be sufficient for optimal growth of the plants. Without corn, the bean vines had nothing to climb on. Without beans, the corn and the squash would not have enough nutrients. Without the squash, the roots of the corn would run dry and die, because the squash leaves provide shade for the shallow roots of the corn.
This win-win-win-collaboration of the three sisters leads to a “win” for each one of the sisters as they grow stronger together than individually, and creates an additional “win” for the mutual purpose they serve as a very healthy and delicious food.
As research shows the ingredients of the three sisters garden reflect the fundamental ingredients of successful collaborations. The researchers Austin et al. as well as Sagawa and Segal agreed on six ingredients, which are the “sine qua non” of successful cross-sector collaborations: (a) clarity about each partner’s needs; (b) clarity about each partner’s strengths; (c) compatible values; (d) overlapping missions; (e) a commitment to a partnership process; and (f) the development of a trusting relationship between the partners – all of which can be found in the three sisters garden collaboration. (if you are interested here you’ll find the original publication)
Incidentally, the Pilgrims also planted gardens their first year with seeds they had brought from England: barley, peas, and parsnips. But, according to William Bradford, those Old World crops were a dismal failure.
(Credits & THANKS to: http://fourstringfarm.com/2013/11/26/the-three-sisters-at-the-first-thanksgiving/ for their story about the first thanksgiving! )
By the way: There was nothing like the “First Thanksgiving” if God had not set up plants like the three sisters, humans like the Indian Squanto and natural powers like the sun, the wind, and the water to make this miracle happen! Thank you God!