This article is a summary of presentations given by three invited speakers in a lecture series on Indigenous North American Ethnobotany, held at the University of Wisconsin - Madison in March, 2012. Speakers included Nancy Turner, Jane Mt. Pleasant, and Linda DifferentCloud-Jones.
"Native agriculture could be a sophisticated response to a challenging environment. What were the secrets of permaculture, companion cropping and corn farming? Could these techniques contribute to modern farming?"
"Conventional wisdom says Native Americans were mostly hunters and gatherers. When they did farm, their slash-and-burn techniques exhausted the soil, forcing them to clear new fields. Although Native Americans domesticated corn, tomatoes and potatoes, their farms were generally unproductive, and most of their plant food came from gathering tubers, greens, berries and shoots. But as we learned at a series of talks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this picture needs editing:
* Three centuries ago, corn-farming Indians in today’s New York State were out-producing European wheat farmers
* The lack of plows in the Americas was not a hindrance but rather helped sustain soil fertility
* Stable, sophisticated food-gathering systems in parts of the Great Plains succumbed not to careless farmers but were drowned by dams on the big rivers
* Natives in British Columbia used a sophisticated permaculture to harvest the same plants year after year"
Photo credit: David J. Tenenbaum
Via Eve Emshwiller