Farming Lathrop Land: A Long History

Seeds are for sale now at our local stores. Our community gardeners are planning their spinach, beans, peas, tomatoes, and squash.  We’re part of a very old farming tradition.  The old barbed wire on our land, as well as an old manure spreader abandoned in an east campus field, reminds us that European colonists farmed our Lathrop land for several centuries.

But in fact, agriculture on Lathrop land goes back even farther. Early European settlers tended to see the land they found as a wilderness, because it did not look like the farms they left behind in Europe.  But they were wrong.  The land they found in the Connecticut Valley was actually an extensive and well-regulated agricultural system that provided the basis of the diet of the native American tribes who lived here.

European settlers did not see the native American farms because women did the farming, and because the fields looked messy to European eyes.  English settlers assumed that only men farmed, and that the work of men was much more important, so they were blind to the fact that an Indian woman might be working up to 2 acres, raising 25-60 bushels of corn. Farming contributed up to three-fourths of total calories consumed.

What did she grow?  Corn, beans, gourds, pumpkins, passionflower, Jerusalem artichoke, squash.

She would choose a plot of forest and place fires around the bases of the trees, burning the bark and killing the tree.  When it died, the tree would be felled, often knocking down other dead trees as it fell—the domino effect.

Once an area had been cleared, earth mounds or hills were constructed about four or five feet apart. Kernels of corn and beans would then be planted in the mounds. The corn stalks would later be used by the bean vines as a pole. In the spaces between the mounds, she would plant squash, gourds, and tubers. The squash vines would trail alongside and over the mounds, protecting the roots of the corn plants and preventing weeds from establishing themselves. This type of agriculture did not look orderly to European eyes, so they didn’t see it.  But there it was, and as we Lathrop residents plan our summer gardens, or plan to walk down to see other peoples’ summer gardens, we are carrying on a long, long tradition for our fertile land.  http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/1393

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