The Bread Basket of the World is not quite what you think

After decades of working with famers there is one thing I have learned: farmers are smart.  There is no denying that. On our way home from British Columbia this past summer, we naturally had to cross the Great Plains. This of course is my home. I’m a prairie guy. And the prairies now are the home of farming. The breadbasket of the world they like to say. And, of course, Canadian and American farmers take the credit for this and they certainly deserve some of the credit (and blame) for this. But this history of farming on the plains is not as simple as I was always thought. This is what David Hurst Thomas said in the book The Native Americans,


“Pick up any traditional textbook on “Western Civilization,” and it will tell you that agriculture originated independently in three places: wheat farming in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East, rice cultivation in Southeast Asia, and domestication of maize in highland Mexico. It would be remarkable, indeed, if farming had been invented independently at three different times, in three different places.

However, the textbooks have it wrong. Archaeologists have just discovered a fourth localized centre of plant domestication, entirely separate from the others. It is in northeastern America.  Although early explorers recorded extensive maize agriculture through the Eastern Woodlands, full-blown maize agriculture developed there only five centuries before the Europeans arrived.

The agricultural roots of native American society runs much deeper. We now understand that over the past four thousand years, the transition from foraging to farming along the rivers of the Eastern woodlands involved three key steps. First came the domestication of native North American seed plants about 2,000 B.C. Then, between 250 B.C. and A.D. 100, food production economies emerged based on these local crops. Finally, maize was introduced, and, between about A.D. 800 and 1,100, the role of maize changed from minor to major crop.

This still-unfolding story is yet another example of Native American ingenuity and enterprise.”


We have a lot to learn from Indigenous people of North America. Its time we started to appreciate that.

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