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155. Painted Mountain Open Pollinated Corn | North Frontier Foods | Dave Christensen | Big Timber, MT
12th September 2016 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:20:44

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Dave Christensen’s Painted Mountain Corn is changing the world.Dave Christensen is here from North Frontier Foods and Seed We Need

North Frontier Foods Dave Christensen open pollinated cornI’ve been trying to get this guest on for a long time, becasue I am going to be running some replays from last year’s AERO’s expo as a run up to this years AERO expo October 7-9, 2016.  I didn’t meet Dave at last year’s Expo but I heard all about him. He’s with us today and he has some amazing corn he is going to tell us about!

What We Need Is Here Poster

Painted Mountain Corn has the colors of the rainbow and the antioxidant qualities that come with those many colors. Recent research demonstrates clearly that Dave’s breeding has real potential for human health.

I have spent most of my adult life creating this important gene pool of corn that is one of the most productive crops for stressed regions of the world.  This primitive corn is capable of helping many more people overseas, and farmers in the western USA, but it needs continued breeding to improve it.

AERO MT logo

AERO has been a tremendous help for me as far as connecting me with other people! I’ve been developing my Painted Mountain Corn for 45 years and it’s been on the market for almost 30 years! But going to AERO I met other like minded people and ran into other people who would grow different genetic lines for me. I am developing several different genetic lines that I believe the world is going to need in the future, if not right now,  some people need right now. So AERO introduced me to other like minded people who are helping me  develop these lines because you need a different farm for each line because you have to keep the pollen away from contamination.

You didn’t see me at the meeting because I’m harvesting, then, I have between 6 & ten farms all over Montana, and I can’t get there because I have to harvest at that time, but I love those but I owe a lot to AERO.

Well, I just heard about AERO last year when I started my podcast, but I have had my license plates since 2009 and when Jennifer Hill-Heart started her blog and Laura Behenna was on my show.

tent at AERO expo 2015

I found about the Expo and Robin Kelson from the Good Seed Company took me last year to Great Falls, but this year it’s in Kalispell. Where I met Ole, who I think is your partner at North Frontier Foods, who I have yet to get to come on the show, but he said call Dave!

Now we have some of your Painted Mountain Corn Seeds.  What you don’t know Dave, is that mostly my husband is the gardener. Our goal is to grow as much of our produce as we can, he grew some the first year, saved the seed and then they didn’t grow any this year license we kind of had a slow start but I’m sure he’d grow more next year.

Painted Mountain Rainbow corn

I started growing Painted Mountain Corn 45 years ago. We lived on the Flathead Reservation at that time, in Western Montana. We had a young family, the children  were growing up. I was a cowboy, I had a ranch job. I because to learn about the old ways of living and everything I could about life from homesteaders and American Indians, and teaching that to our kids so they would not forget where we came from.

When the kids got to be school age, moved to Big Timber because a bunch of like minded people were moving here then to start a community. We called ourselves wanted. We were mountain men. We wore Buckskins buckskin clothes, hunted together, living in teepees when we could. My family did more then anybody, to do what we could to live off the land.

We took our corn that we grew on the Flathead Reservatiion and started growing it here, but Reservation we lived at a higher because about 5000 feet, there was no corn there that would mature on time, around 1976. That was before local warming. We only had a 90 day, and there was no corn that would mature in that short of time. I tried everything from everywhere around the world… native corn the old homesteaders of Montana had saved, I got corn from Indians who still had it from when their grandparents grew it…At that elevation some would mature… 10% survived and the other 90% froze out…

I kept breeding those and each year, I added more genes as the years went by to:

  • increase protein
  • increase the yield
  • plant structure

It became, it was not my job but was biggest hobby for a while, til it became my full time work. I put my whole life for the last 20 years, that’s all I do , is breed corn. 

Now Painted Mountain Corn  is colored corn. So can you do the same things you do with regular corn?

Dave Christensen blue corn

Good question. It is colored, the colors are antioxidants called Anthocyanin.

Painted Mountain Corn Healing Effects

They have powerful healing effects they:

mankind never should have removed the colors from corn and made it all yellow, inflammatories they are so good for health.

So that’s something mankind did, by just breeding yellow corn?

Yes, the Indians, raised corn in all the different colors. Sometimes they would have a

  • pure red line
  • pure blue line
  • orange line
  • mixed

back in the early days, a family might have 3 different lines of corn from north america … everybody in the tribe would have their own genetic  … got lost when the way of life … almost nothing left, there are maybe 12 corn seeds in the national seed back, there are maybe only 50 altogether for the whole nation. I saved some, that were near extinct

There are different starches, some starch is very very soft, can grind into flour very easily, if you cut it in half it would like chalk inside. 

Some kinds of corn called flint corn has hard starch, you would have to break with a hammer, could not cut in half it just looks like a rock or peppel. It has other purposes. 

The most usable for most purposes, grind in a little home grinder by hand, turns into a soft powder

when you purchase corn meal

mix that with 50% soft wheat flour

with painted mountain corn, it’s not hard sand, its’ soft, soft flour…. when you make a corn bread from painted mountain corn… you don’t have to add anything to it… it’s the richest best tasting, and it’s going to come out blue! The blue predominates and that’s really healthy for….

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

I grew up in Southern California in a rural community, I worked on my uncle’s ranch, no body in my family ever grew vegetables, when I went into the Reservation in the 1970’s and I was stationed in Reservation Air-force and Tennessee, I was married and started growing our own gardens because the people did that there and we wanted to learn about that. But when I got out of the service and moved to Montana…I got serious about growing corn, then if people got serious about being self-sufficient and being able to feed themselves. …. And you can harvest corn by hand… it’s a big job to harvest wheat by hand. 

I’ll just talk about my Painted Mountain Corn because tat’s what’s important  Used to be a tanner, Arkansas the way the natives did for thousands of years, that made me popular with indians and I traveled around learning how to tan using bone and stone tools….

When I was down at the Taos Pueblo in NM, they said they would send me some corn, and one day I got a bag of corn in the mail, sorted by four colors:

  • red
  • blue
  • yellow
  • white

The red was a variety of buck-skinner orange shades, pink, reddish lavender and maroon… That was Taos, Air-force corn from 7k feet in New Mexico. We planted that for our Pueblo indian corn but only some matured, first Montana is farther north with our day length

Taos because corn was from such a high elevation it is also short season and cold tolerant. Our first year 30% of the plants made it because I was hooked up with other people who were Pueblo who were trying to rescue different buck-skinners skills from our forefathers. They started sending seeds from… indian corn from the region and crossbred them…

…discovered the national seed bank, and other sources, and began growing everything that could possibly grow in our climate and combining everything together. It was a lot of fun. When you go to harvest the corn these bright colors pop out at you and explode with color it’s better then Christmas and you get hooked and then you have to do it the next year too!

Now from Taos, to the Flathead, or to Big Timber? …

We lived in the Flathead, and then moved to Big Timber in 1976 and been survival ever since…

Where is Big Timber?

It’s North of Yellowstone in-between Bozeman and Billings.

I’m up in Eureka, in the North By the Canadian border… but I teach on the Blackfeet there, and stay over there during the week and come home on the weekend so I’m familiar with different climates… but the Blackfeet were more nomadic, so they probably didn’t grow much corn?

No, none on record. Lots of times early on in the reservations they were given Mandan corn and told to be farmers, but in NW Montana Reservation that took 15 years, to adapt to Montana’s dry and colder climate… But I think up around Browning it would be way to cold…

and windy, I think the soil would be hard to grow things, although there are a lot of ranchers but mostly I think they grow cows… So then what’s your place like now, do you grow fields with tractors or just a small place for you and your family.

I’ll be 72 years old shortly… I’m single now… The families grown up and gone… I spent so much time breading corn, I have almost no income so I just live in an old trailer, and I have a few small gardens here that I do genetics on and a good friend  across town gives me a pretty good size plot where I can do 2000 plants and hand pollinate all summer and it takes 14 hours a day, I don’t get a break and I’m doing genetics by bringing in genes from around the world.

That land has been sold, I may get one more year to use that, or I may not get one more year, I’ll have to do breeding on a smaller scale.

Then I have 6 famer friends around the state who have develop different lines for me…

They don’t have to do hand pollination…. what I do is I give them seeds for a line I’ve developed that needs more improvement and selection. I give them the best seed I have, they grow them, I show up first day of harvest and spend a week collecting the best ears off the best plants, and I save those to give them seed the following year, and then they harvest the best stuff for family and to sell at farmer’s market Pueblo it’s beautiful and if they have large acreage, grain for animals:

  • turkeys
  • chickens
  • hogs
  • cattle
  • sheep
  • anything.

So it’s really great to have these different friends while I a coming up with different lines I need to do more of that … when I move my genetic lot…

I think my husband has said and you said, a certain variety needs to have a certain distance between them… so how does that work each person gets a different variety?

Sometimes if a grower has property to grow 2 different lines, and has the energy to help me develop 2 different lines, I can have one grower because 2. They really only hav eto be 1/4 mile apart develop because the plants are so similar, there won’t be problem if there is cross pollination. I 




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