EDIBLE ESTATES garden #8: LENAPE EDIBLE ESTATE MANHATTAN
Watch the video, The Story of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan
Estate owners: Hudson Guild at Elliott-Chelsea Houses
Location: New York, New York
Produced and presented by: New York Restoration Project in partnership with Friends of the High Line
Founding garden sponsor: Gardenburger LLC
USDA plant hardiness zone: 7
Established: June 13, 2009
Garden exposure: South
Size of garden: 55 x 60 feet
This garden landscape is located on a rare patch of open, south-facing land in the middle of Manhattan. The triangular piece of land is in front of Hudson Guild, a vital community center that was established in 1895 and currently serves the 2,000 residents of the surrounding New York Public Housing Authority’s Robert Fulton Houses and Elliott-Chelsea Houses. The garden includes the native edible plants and mounded plantings of beans, corn, and squash—also known as the “three sisters”—that the Lenape people would have eaten for millennia in that very location. It provides a view back to their lives and how they lived off the land on the island they knew as Mannahatta at the time that the first European, Henry Hudson, visited in 1609. Unlike the other Edible Estates gardens, which are very much about the present, this garden is a meditation on the historical facts of and future possibilities for our occupation of the island.
The Lenape garden is surrounded by detailed signage that tells the story of each plant, the food it produces, how the Lenape used it in their diet, and the natural history of the site. It is not intended to feed the current local residents, but rather to provide visible evidence of both the general fact that our food comes out of the dirt and specific examples of the sources of food for the previous residents of the island. It is a demonstration garden, part experimental laboratory and part educational display. Visiting students and those from the nearby children’s center use the garden and its central gathering circle for activities and workshops dealing with the history, ecology, food, plants, animals, energy, and other aspects of the immediate natural environment.
The residents of Elliott-Chelsea Houses, members of the Hudson Guild community, visiting students, and the general public become more aware of organic growing cycles as they watch the garden evolve through the seasons and years. They become aware of the natural and cultural history of the island they live on by observing food growing on plants that existed in Manhattan soil before it was the city we know today. This garden landscape may also serve as a model for small-scale urban edible landscapes and as a possible prototype for modest green spaces at similar housing sites across the city.
DESIGN, MATERIALS, AND PLANTS
The garden is divided into four distinct zones: woodlands, berry patch, flowering meadow, and the “three sisters.” Within each there is a variety of edibles, both natives of the island and cultivars of the Lenape. There are no footpaths, and the ground is covered entirely with a combination of wood chips and leaf mulch to approximate the decaying plant material that would have been found on the bottom of a Mannahatta forest. At the center of the garden is a gathering circle—an open space with a ring of tree stumps for seating—which is used as a simple outdoor classroom for visiting student groups.
W1) common persimmon
W2) red cedar
W3) American hazelnut
W4) Solomon's Seal
Zone 2—Flowering Meadow
FM1) butterfly milkweed
FM2) common milkweed
FM3) Big Bluestem
FM4) Jerusalem artichokes
Zone 3—Berry Patch
BP1) common elderberries
BP2) highbush blueberries
BP3) lowbush blueberries
BP4) wild strawberries
Zone 4—Three Sisters
Common Persimmon Diospyros virginiana
In the fall this tree produces an orange fruit that the Lenape people harvested and stored. Molasses can be made from the fruit’s pulp, a tea can be made from its leaves, and the roasted seeds can be used as a substitute for coffee beans. Unripe fruit and the plant’s inner bark have been used for various medicinal purposes.
Red Cedar Juniperus virginiana
The berries of red cedars were eaten and also used in sweat baths, along with sage and mint leaves and goldenrod flowers. Wood from this tree was used to make poles that marked agreed upon tribal hunting territories.
American Hazelnut Corylus americana
The half-inch-diameter nuts are enclosed in a hairy husk with ragged edges, and they ripen from green to brown in late summer. These nuts were crushed and used by Native Americans as a base for soup or eaten raw with honey. Tribe members drank a tea made from the inner bark to cure hives and hay fever.
Solomon's Seal Polygonatum biflorum
The rhizome, or rootstock, of this plant served many functions. It was eaten as a source of starch (after being cooked overnight in lye water to remove its bitterness), ground into a flour to make bread, steamed and inhaled to treat headaches, burned for fragrance, made into a medicinal tea, and poulticed to treat skin ailments.
Zone 2—Flowering Meadow
Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa
All of the aboveground portions of the plant were cooked and eaten, and the roots had several medicinal uses. Some Native American legends recount the roots being used as a bodywash to improve lifting and running strength. The bark was also used to make a strong fiber that was then made into twine and cloth.
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
During the spring some Native American peoples cooked the young shoots, eating them as an asparagus-like food. As a root tea, common milkweed also had medicinal uses for a number of respiratory, digestive, and joint conditions. The high dextrose content of its nectar led to milkweed's use as a source of sweetener. This plant, especially the root, is considered toxic without sufficient preparation or when consumed in large quantities.
Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii
Bluestem grass was valued for its mold-resistant properties; it was used to line beds and storage pits dug in the soil. A tea made from the leaves was used as a wash to relieve fevers. Big Bluestem once dominated the tall-grass prairies of North America but was largely replaced by the corn and wheat crops that came with European settlement.
Jerusalem Artichoke Helianthus tuberosa
This plant produces a beautiful sunflower in late summer and potato-like tubers that can grow to two inches in diameter. The Lenape dug out the tubers, dried them, and pounded them into flour and also baked whole tubers in underground ovens.
Zone 3—Berry Patch
Common Elderberry Sambucus canadensis
The blue and purple elderberries are edible and high in vitamin C, though the red berries of other species are toxic. Native Americans made juice and tea for babies from elderberry flowers. The berries and flowers were also used for medicine and dyes, while the stems were used as twirling sticks for starting fires.
Highbush Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum
Lowbush Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium
The Lenape used all parts of the plant and were especially fond of eating wild blueberries for sustenance; they dried them for year-round nourishment. They also used the berry for dyes and medicinal purposes. Native American legend tells of a Great Spirit that sent the “star berries”—a reference to the star-shaped structure at the bottom of the blueberry—to relieve famine.
Wild Strawberry Fragaria virginiana
The wild strawberry was used extensively and considered sacred by many Native Americans. Their style of crushing the fruit and eating it with baked cornmeal bread inspired the colonists’ creation of strawberry shortcake. The Mohawk name for strawberry, noon tak tek hah kwa, means “growing where the ground is burned,” which refers to the appearance of berry patches in meadows that flourished after brush burnings.
Raspberry Rubus idaeus
In addition to gathering and eating the berries, the Lenape also made tea from the plant’s leaves. The tea has a long medicinal history as an astringent, as well as a treatment for wounds, diarrhea, and colic pain. Red raspberry is a member of the rose family, native to Europe and Asia, though North America is the naturalized habitat of several subspecies.
Zone 4—Three Sisters
Corn, Beans, Squash
The Lenape people practiced multicropping with the traditional “three sisters” garden, growing corn in combination with beans and squash. Beginning in late April Lenape men cleared a plot of land by felling the large trees and burning the vegetation. The burning fertilizes the soil with ash, which promotes plant growth by changing the soil chemistry from acidic to alkaline and releasing more nutrients. In early May the women created dirt mounds and planted a circle of corn kernels saved from the year before. A few weeks later, they planted beans around the corn stalks and squash around the rest of the mound. Over the course of the summer the tall corn stalks provide a structure for the beans to climb. The beans have nodules on their roots that transform nitrogen from the atmosphere into a natural fertilizer that feeds the corn and squash. Meanwhile the shade of the large green squash leaves keeps the weeds down and holds in soil moisture between rain showers (the Lenape didn’t practice irrigation). Crops were harvested from late summer until the first frost, usually in October.
A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE FOOD HABITS OF THE LENAPE ON MANNAHATTA
Eric W. Sanderson
Everyone needs to eat. All societies in all places at all times must find ways to provision food; it’s as fundamental to economics as it is to ecology. Today New York City is world-renowned for its food, which is collected from all over the world, prepared in myriad manners, and then exchanged for paper and plastic money in famous restaurants and cafés. But what about before there was a city, money, or cafés? What about when the land was green with trees and covered with hills, when sparkling streams wound through wetlands and across fields down to the fertile, productive estuary surrounding the island? What were the food ways of the first New Yorkers?
For nearly a decade my colleagues and I at the Wildlife Conservation Society have been working to rediscover the ecology of New York when Henry Hudson, the first European explorer, arrived in September 1609. The results, presented in the Mannahatta Project, tell, in part, the story of food on the island. On Mannahatta (the original Lenape name for Manhattan, meaning “island of many hills”) many different societies found good food to eat—all of it slow and local, collected on the island or in its surrounding waters. One can imagine a society of squirrels finding nuts among the oak and chestnut trees of the Upper East Side, porpoises hunting for bluefish in the harbor just off the shore of Tribeca, and societies of ferns slowly accumulating sunlight in the shade of woodlands in Washington Heights. In all these neighborhoods, energy and materials passed along food webs, originating from the sun, atmosphere, and soil, eventually reaching the physical bodies of living creatures, and then passing through them back to the soil and atmosphere. And what was generally true for populations of squirrels, porpoises, ferns, and many other organisms was also true for Mannahatta’s people.
When Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, he found Native Americans of the Lenape culture—the “real people,” as they knew themselves. The Lenape extended from southeast New York across most of New Jersey to the Delaware Bay and into eastern Pennsylvania. They were considered by other northeastern peoples of the Contact Era the “Ancient Ones” of Algonquin culture. The Lenape told the story of how the North American continent was formed on the back of a turtle. They built curvilinear, wooden homes from the living materials of the forest. And they ate food that was diverse, nutritious, and surprisingly abundant.
Food on Mannahatta followed the seasons, and the Lenape followed the food. In April and May they moved their camps to the water’s edge to take advantage of the fish runs, when millions of shad and other herring, trout, and sturgeon surged up the rivers, seeking their breeding waters upstream. The Lenape caught them with nets and fish traps and spent hours drying the fish over smoky fires on the beaches that lined the west side of the island, from today’s Battery to Forty-second Street.
In early summer the Lenape moved inland to places suitable for growing gardens, usually near their wigwams and longhouses, which were beside permanent sources of fresh water. To start a garden they cleared a field by cutting trees and starting fires, then they formed the soil into mounds on which they would plant the three traditional sister crops of Native America: corn, beans, and squash. Our research shows that the beans fed the corn with nitrogen, the corn provided a scaffold on which the climbing bean plants could grow, and the squash extended its large leaves to shade the soil, limiting the weeds and minimizing evaporation. Along the margins of their plots, the Lenape also grew sunflowers and tobacco and cultivated Jerusalem artichoke and other wild plants.
In the forests around them, they collected herbs, roots, nuts, and berries as these foods came in season. Mannahatta offered blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, nannyberries, gooseberries, strawberries, and wild grapes. In the fall many of the trees produced abundant nut crops—chestnuts, hickory nuts, beechnuts, and acorns. The Lenape also hunted the many mammals, birds, and reptiles in the forests, including wild turkeys, snapping turtles, deer, and perhaps elk. Black bear was considered a particular favorite, providing not only meat but, more important, grease with which to cook and cover their bodies, and thick, warm fur to use for clothing and blankets during the cold months.
In the winter the Lenape lived off of dried fish, nuts, corn, beans, and squash, often storing the food in small pits they dug in the ground and lined with bluestem grass. They continued to hunt and fish and, when food ran low, to collect the harbor’s plentiful oysters, clams, mussels, and even lobster. Analysis of the bones of Mannahatta’s inhabitants shows that their diets were slanted toward seafood, and no doubt the year-round abundance of sedentary shellfish offshore provided a reliable food supply.
Fritz Haeg and his partners and volunteers created the Lenape Edible Estate at Twenty-sixth Street and Tenth Avenue, but 400 years ago that block was dominated by American chestnuts, in a rich, moist forest with oaks and tulip trees, which sloped down a hillside toward the nearby Hudson River shore. One could have stood in the block and, listening carefully, heard the lapping waves of the river on the beach halfway between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Two streams met in the block, which meant that, in addition to hunting for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and passenger pigeons, one also might have fished for brook trout and American eel. Gathering Lenape may have found hawthorns, groundnuts, huckleberry, and mayflower fruit, among other plants.
Given the abundance of food in Manhattan’s grocery stores and restaurants and the largely invisible ways that food is delivered from all over the world to the city today, it sometimes is hard to believe that once upon a time people grew, collected, and prepared all the food they ate directly on the island where they lived. It is easy to forget that under the asphalt of Tenth Avenue there is soil; and though rain still falls on the city today, it is considered a problem, not a virtue. But if that soil was released from its stony tomb, it could grow food again. And if the rainwater wasn’t diverted to storm drains, it could create new streams. That is why I think the work Fritz and his partners have done with the Lenape Edible Estate in Manhattan is important: to remind us of our geographical past and to suggest the promise of our geographical future—in New York City and elsewhere—so once again we will know, as the Lenape did, where our food comes from.
Text from EDIBLE ESTATES: ATTACK ON THE FRONT LAWN (Metropolis Books, 2nd Ed., 2010)
Produced and presented by
New York Restoration Project in partnership with Friends of the High Line
Signage design by
PS New York
Landscape ecology consultant
Eric W. Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Mannahatta Project, themannahattaproject.org
Volunteer garden workers Miriam Bergen, Carly Berwick, Lola Bloom, Claudia deLuna Castro, Chloe Cerwinka, Abigail Cooney, N Dash, Nicole Fitzgerald, David Freudenthal, Sarah Johnson, Renee Kaufman, Bettina Korek, Cathy Lebowitz, Rebecca Lemos, Kristin Mann, Diana Murphy, David Nimowitz, Elizabeth Oh, Veronica Perretti, Stephanie Porto, Mimi Slaughter, Kol Solthon, Allison Walwyn, Corinne Weiner, and Laura Zuspan; special thanks to Kris Slava at Ovation; Bettina Korek and Karen Marta at ForYourArt; Robert Hammond, Peter Mullan, and Danya Sherman at Friends of the High Line; Meghan Barrier, Drew Becher, Christopher Drury, Amy Gavaris, and Simon Skinner at New York Restoration Project.
HARVEST OPENING EVENT
PUBLIC OPENING OF LENAPE EDIBLE ESTATE: MANHATTAN: The latest Edible Estate garden opens near Chelsea's High Line and demonstrates how the native Lenape lived off the land...
Edible Estates and New York Restoration Project (NYRP) in partnership with Friends of the High Line present the LENAPE EDIBLE ESTATE: MANHATTAN, a garden installation featuring native edibles and Lenape cultivars. Planted in June by NYRP, local volunteers and members of Hudson Guild, a Chelsea community center, the opening harvest event coincides with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Henry Hudson to the island of Manhattan. The free, family opening event on September 14th from 6:00 – 8:30 PM will feature harvest activities, interpretive garden tours, native foods cooking demonstrations with field-to-fork food education program Growing Chefs, and other food demonstrations with Hot Bread Kitchen. The evening celebration will also include the premiere of "The Story of Mannahatta and the Lenape Edible Estate: Manhattan," a video about the garden and the history of eating on the island of Manhattan, as told by Eric Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s The Mannahatta Project.
The garden provides a view back to the lives of the Lenape people, how they lived off the land on the island of Mannahatta, from the native edible plants and the mounded plantings of bean, corn and squash, also know as “three sisters.” Located in front of the Hudson Guild at 441 West 26th Street at 10th Avenue, and serving the residents of New York City Housing Authority’s Elliott-Chelsea Houses, the garden is designed to showcase examples of four distinct zones: woodland, berry patch, flowering meadow, and “three sisters," and is surrounded by signage designed by PS New York, identifying each of the plants and telling stories about how each was used by the Lenape.
This eighth garden in the Edible Estates series is a meditation both on the historical facts and the future possibilities for occupation of Manhattan, and presented in partnership with Hudson Guild, Elliott-Chelsea Houses/NYCHA, New York Restoration Project, Friends of the High Line, Growing Chefs, Hot Bread Kitchen, and the Manahatta Project.
6:00 PM – Garden tours, harvest, cooking workshops, corn shucking and grinding, weeding, C.S.A. stands, and free native Manhattan food and drink
7:00 PM – Premiere of video about the Lenape and the new garden, followed by a conversation with Eric Sanderson of The Mannahatta Project
IMPORTANT MANHATTAN PRECEDENTS
Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist, Greenwich Village, 1978
Wheatfield: A Confrontation by Agnes Denes, Lower Manhattan, 1982
Elliott-Chelsea Houses are part of a large complex of public housing towers owned and managed by the New York Public Housing Authority (NYCHA) in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Hudson Guild is based in Elliott Chelsea Houses and was founded in 1895 to build community in Chelsea and beyond through a broad range of programs and services.New York Restoration Project NYRP is a nonprofit founded by Bette Midler in1995 to partner with individuals, community-based groups, and public agencies to reclaim, restore, and develop under-resourced parks, community gardens, and open space in New York City, primarily in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.Friends of the High Line is a nonprofit founded in 1999 to promote the reuse of the abandoned west-side rail line into an elevated linear park. Eric Sanderson is a landscape ecologist based in New York City at the Wildlife Conservation Society and founder of The Mannahatta Project. Edible Estates is an on-going project by Fritz Haeg.
Growing Chefs was founded in 2005 as a way to teach kids (and their parents!) about the delicious, wonderful ways in which food gets from the soil to the kitchen. Annie's love of plants is translated here into recipes using local ingredients and ideas from wherever she travels. Annie's philosophy is simple: "Broccoli is not boring!" Hot Bread Kitchen is a social purpose non-profit bakery that enhances the future for immigrant women while preserving baking traditions. They offer fresh breads baked with traditional recipes from local and organic ingredients. The product line is inspired by their bakers and reflects the diversity of New York City.
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