The Nan Awaya Heritage Farmstead is located in eastern Atoka County, Oklahoma, within the heart of the Choctaw Nation. This 160 acre parcel was allotted to a young Choctaw woman at the time of statehood, and although it has changed hands many times since then, it has never been subdivided. Not withstanding the loans that we're paying on it, we've never really seen this land as our "property". Instead, we feel more like we belong to the land. Our time on this land connects us with the buffalo hunters who left their stone tools here 7,000 years ago and with the waves of monarch butterflies that will hopefully still be visiting this land's wildflowers 10,000 years from now.
For occupying only 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile, we find ourselves on a diverse landscape. 120 feet of elevation change, many natural springs, and different soil types give rise to a surprising variety of edible and culturally useful plants. Sadly, when we purchased this land, it had been seriously overgrazed for years, badly eroded, and logged. There was almost no grass on it.
As responsible managers, our task is to restore the balance and productivity of this piece of land. This is not only the right thing to do, but is a financial imperative for our farm to be successful. Over the centuries, this tract of land has fluctuated between oak woods, oak savanna, and tallgrass prairie as rainfall and other conditions have changed. Our management goal is to expand the surviving remnants of these native plant communities in order to create a diverse, resilient, drought-tolerant, landscape for producing food and raw materials for Choctaw cultural projects.
Success in reaching these goals begins with creating the right conditions to rebuild the topsoil. Our main tool to accomplish this is a small, but growing herd of buffalo. This animal is the keystone species for our region. Buffalo managed these lands long before people were here. In order to help our herd in its work, we are managing them in an intensive grazing rotation. By breaking our land up into a number of small pastures, rotating the animals frequently, and giving each pasture adequate time to rest between grazing, we help our small herd to manage the land in a way that is basically similar to what the ancient, migratory herds of buffalo used to do. Throw in buffalo wallows, pastures selectively set aside for very long fallow periods, as well as occasional controlled burns, and we are creating the conditions for a wide variety of native plants and animals on this working farm.
We're currently selling young buffalo bulls to help pay off the land and to provide healthy food. We will ultimately need a herd of about 30 animals to properly manage the entire acreage. Several years from now, when our cow/calf herd reaches that number, we'll begin selling breeding females. As other responsibilities allow, we may one day begin direct selling grass fed bison meat, traditional artwork, and perhaps offering some one-of-a-kind guest accommodations through this website. Beyond farm products, Nan Awaya Heritage Farmstead hosts a number of land-based community activities each year that range from picking muscadines, to cultural plant walks, to community camp outs.
The blog posts on this site in the "Land" category are about the adventures we have in working towards our land-management goals.