The Center for Cherokee Plants

Publication Year: 
Publication Type: 
Program Highlight
Cherokee Extension
FRTEP - 1862

The Cherokee are the original farmers & gardeners of the southern Appalachian mountains in the United States. The
homeland of the Cherokee supports the highest agrobiodiversity (plants & animals associated with farming) in North American - including northern Mexico and Canada. Since ancient times Cherokee families have developed vegetable varieties suited to the mountain environment. Archeological evidence reveals that corn and beans have been grown in Western North Carolina for more than 650 years. However, recently, Cherokee traditional crops & farming knowledge are in danger of being lost as fewer and fewer people engage in agriculture. Modern lifestyle, typically, work, school, and sports leaves little time for traditional farming or gardening. In 2007, “saving and promoting traditional Cherokee agricultural crops & artists’ resources” ranked highest in a community needs assessment survey in which the Cherokee public identified 20 issues in need of attention.

The Center for Cherokee Plants was founded by Cherokee gardener, Kevin Welch of the Big Cove Community, to save old-time family lines of Cherokee seeds. The Center is part of a renaissance reconnecting Cherokee People with their traditional heritage and values. A partnership between Cherokee Reservation Cooperative Extension and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Center encompasses a seed bank / seed–share program and a nursery which is currently being  developed. The nursery is growing Cherokee artists’ resource plants, native plants for wildlife and erosion control and will serve as a plant rescue temporary holding site. Educational programs have included gardening with heirloom vegetables, seed saving, Cherokee heirloom seeds and tours of the developing nursery.