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.

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