This rare, vibrant heirloom corn is the work of a Dust Bowl farmer with Cherokee roots

TIL: Glass Gem is a beautiful and rare variety of heirloom corn (aka calico, flint, or "Indian" corn) that looks like candy, or maybe beads (previously). It was developed by Oklahoma farmer and breeder Carl 'White Eagle' Barnes and was originally only distributed to tribal members. Barnes, who passed in 2016, was half-Cherokee, half-Irish-Scotch and had a passion for native seed-keeping.


As a youth, Carl began to seek out his Cherokee roots, and to explore the knowledge of his ancestors and of Native American traditions in general. Much of this quest centered on the ceremonies surrounding planting, harvest, and honoring of the seeds…

In the course of growing some of the older corn varieties still being farmed at that time, Carl began noticing ancestral types re-appearing in his crops As he isolated these, he found that many of them matched up with traditional corns that had been lost to various Native tribes, particularly those peoples who had been relocated to what is now Oklahoma during the 1800's. Thus he was able to re-introduce specific corn types to the elders of those tribes, and this helped their people in reclaiming their cultural and spiritual identities. Their corn was, to them, literally the same as their blood line, their language, and their sense of who they were. Carl went on to acquire and exchange other traditional corn seed from a variety of people he had befriended around the country. To those that he met, he became known by his spiritual name White Eagle. Through being of service with the seeds, Carl awakened to the more esoteric nature of corn and its mystical relationship to human beings. This led to further insights, which he shared widely, inspiring many people over the years. His philosophy and teaching could be summed up in three words he repeated so often — 'The Seed Remembers'.

Barnes gifted his protégé Greg Schoen kernels of the rainbowed Glass Gem corn in 1995. In 2012, photos of the corn went viral, as they are again! Schoen tells the seed's story here:

Mostly ornamental, Glass Gem seeds are remarkably non-GMO and can be popped or ground into flour. "We think it's so beautiful to simply look at," writes Sherwood Seeds, some folks on Etsy who sell its seeds. Get a 20-seed pack for $4.99 to grow next year. It's too late in the season to plant them now! You can also buy the seeds from Native Seeds who got them directly from Schoen (50 seeds for $3.25).

(Pee-wee Herman, Reddit)