So, I sit down to lunch with my friend and some Latino laborers, and she agrees to let me use a corner of her sheep field for traditional Native American farming – a 3 sister’s garden (corn, beans, and squash) that would be hand-tilled and naturally fenced. Not terribly receptive to the political argument of land-rights, she nevertheless recognizes the environmental argument, agreeing to develop this land as the Native Americans might have.
So, who were the first farmers? Where did their crops come from? What practices evolved with farming? And how does one go about creating a model of an indigenous farm?
In the case of corn, its early ancestor appears to be teosinte. The earliest known evidence for it comes from the Xihuatoxtla Shelter in southwestern Mexico (Ranere et al, 2009) where it is present in archeoogical strata that date to 9000 calibrated years before present along with other tools and artifacts such as stemmed, indented points, Pedernales point bases, lanceolate points, spokeshaves, gravers, and handstones. AboutEducation presents a quick review of this archeological site, noting that evidence for domesticated squash also occurs in all layers.
But pumpkin-like squash apparently came before corn, and the bean a little later (Bruce Smith, 2001). The squash may have been easiest to grow, and the corn may have attracted deer for hunting. In terms of portability, ground corn meal pouches are used even today by Native American hunters, and dried squash might also be portable and would not have to be cooked. It might also carry water. Chopped into chips, and sun-dried with sea water, it’s probably a little like a modern-day potato chip. The fried seeds are awesome, and could probably also be simply sun-dried, if one guards them from the birds.
The first step in all of this might be building a fence to keep the animals out of the field. Native Americans adapted to incredibly difficult environments, and indeed, many of the 3-sister gardens, although Iroquois stories abound as to their origin, may have arisen in the Southwestern desertlike environments where trees would have been too sparse for fences. Although stone fences are used in the Andes and Chaco, a lot of contemporary literature discusses the political and philosophical divide between people who fence (European settlers) and those who don’t, didn’t, or are alleged not to have (Native Americans).