Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Native American Food Saved Early Pilgrims

Part 2 of the series Are Native Americans Relevant?

The village of Plymouth was built on the site of the Wampanoag village of Patuxet.  It had been wiped out by smallpox and slave raids before their arrival.  This group of Europeans survived the winter of 1620-21 because they were taken care of by Native Americans, despite their suspicions of the new people.
Most of the Pilgrims were from urban areas.  The Native Americans had to teach them how to grow corn, beans and squash.  When their Native mentors died from disease or warfare, the Pilgrims took over their fields and storehouses.  After 7 years the Puritans accumulated enough wealth to create the Massachusetts Bay Colony and buy out the stock of the Plymouth Company.  Within the next 6 years the Pilgrims were able to pay off the entire debt of the company through trade with the Natives and growing Native American crops. 
North American colonists originally used the Native technique of hilling crops. Since it was abandoned, erosion has increased dramatically and thousands of tons of the best soil washed away downstream.  The traditional practice of corn, squash and beans together reduces destruction of plants by insects and other pests.  Corn yields are 50% more than the monoculture practiced today in the United States.

Many food producing plants that appeared to be conveniently placed in the wild (to Europeans) were there because the Natives either found them there and took care of them or had already planted them there.  It was not divine providence.
Natives perfected growth of crops from cuttings and root sprouts.  They could produce 13 generations of tomatoes with no degradation of the plant. 
Native Americans were first to use guano in fertilizer.  Its use in Europe initiated modern farming practice and fertilizer business there.  Native Americans were first to use fish for fertilizer.  Now fish meal is used.

Native Americans Bred 3/5 of The World’s Cultivated Food Crops

Part 2 of the series Are Native Americans Relevant?

The Native Americans of the Andes first cultivated potatoes at least 4,000 years ago.  At the time of Spanish conquest there were approximately 3,000 different types of potatoes in the Andes.  The early Native Americans prized diversity of crops, creating different kinds of plant for every type of sun, soil and moisture condition.  They bred potatoes in a variety of sizes, textures, colors and tastes.  They bred for other properties as well:  rates of maturation, water requirements, storage, and livestock feed.  In addition, they grew several root crops not currently used.  They grew diverse kinds of corn, amaranth and quinoa.


 Using these methods, the people were assured of having food in case of problematic weather or if disease struck some of the vegetables.  In contrast, only 250 varieties of potatoes are grown in North American now, and no more than 20 make up 3/4s of the potato harvest.   North American crops are at risk.
Early Northern European and western European countries like Russia, Germany, England and Scandinavia suffered from periodic famines.  Corn and potatoes broke the cycle of starvation.  A field of potatoes produces more food and nutrition.  They are more reliable and require less labor than the same field planted in any grain and they thrived in Europe.  They were a new source of Vitamin C that greatly improved people’s health.  The population grew 60 percent and enabled power shifts in Europe.  
Europe’s protein supply increased with the great variety of new beans:  kidney, string, snap, frijoles, common, scarlet runner, butter, lima, navy, pole, French, Rangoon, Burma, Madagascar.
Sunflowers gave the colder climates a reliable source of edible oil.  Sunflower seeds have become popular as snack food and mix-ins for food.
Corn was used primarily to feed livestock in Europe. Only in some countries did people consume corn.  Europeans increased their intake of all animal products and developed a craving for American beef and ham.  Native plants were taken to African and Asia.  Corn, peanuts and cassava enabled African population to grow.  Cultures across the globe added new Native American foods to their diet.
In the last decade of the 20th century, native plants were 1/3 of the annual U.S. harvest, corn was 15%.  In 1989 potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts each sold for more than $1 billion, sunflower seeds close behind.  Foreign markets want farm product and its byproducts.

European Wealth Based on Native Gold and Silver

Part I of the series Are Native American Relevant?

The gold and silver in medieval European churches and palaces came from the New World.  Between 1500 and 1650 180 to 200 tons were added to European treasuries, a value of over $2.8 billion in 1988.  Between 1492 and 1542 16,000 tons of silver entered Europe, $3.3 billion in 1988.  At first the gold and silver were stolen from the Native Americans on the continent.  Then it was mined by Native American slaves.  As they died off, the mining was continued by African slaves.  This wealth was carried off to Europe by Spanish galleons. 
From Spain the wealth spread through Europe. For the first time there was something other than land that provided wealth, leading to the new merchant and capitalist classes.  It made possible a world economy for the first time.

Are Native Americans Relevant?

In honor of my Native ancestors and Native American Heritage Month, I am writing a series of posts addressing the question Are Native Americans Relevant?  I did not do the original research in primary records, but I thought many salient points needed to be brought together in one source.  The prototype for this was the display I did for an organization this past summer:

Unfortunately this is the only photo I have of the display since both my old and new cameras died.

This information will remain permanently on one or more of my pages, along with a list of references.