Thanksgiving and the Harvest
At Thanksgiving we celebrate the abundance of the harvest, the end of the agricultural season and the entering of the winter cycle. During the previous summer, we’ve worked in partnership with the land to yield abundance before a season of scarcity.
For many of us, the harvest will come from our gardens, as well as our agricultural fields. But what does a partnership with the land really mean, at its best?
Thanksgiving is celebrated as a day of a meeting of cultures, between Native American and Europeans. In this light,we thought it might be interesting to look at pre-European land management practices as they relate to stewardship and being guardians of the earth.
Tending and Tilling the Native American Way
When the first European settlers arrived in North America, they likely thought they were looking upon open, wild land. It has since, however, come to be understood that the land was already being managed by the Native Americans who lived here.
While the American ethic of land management tends to be that wild spaces should be left wild, and cultivated places should be cultivated, the management of whole tracks of land by the Native Americans was more a mixture of the two.
For example, we can look at selective burning, where large areas of prairie but also forest were burned to remove underbrush and to make the forest more park like. Early European settlers compared the appearance of American forests to their parks of large trees that touched canopy to canopy with open space underneath. While this practice certainly made the forests more attractive for humans, it also aided other wild species.
Prescribed burns actually assist in building wild life abundance through creating flushes of food for a wide variety of creatures. Many animals and plants rely on a certain stage of development in the forest to thrive, and natural as well as prescribed burns are one way of ensuring this state. Forest burns were similar to prairie burns, which helped to favor the grasses and plants that could support large populations of game.
Native cultures also practiced seed saving, selective plant breeding, and wild gardening. For example, the pawpaw tree, America’s largest native fruit, was thought to be planted throughout a wide variety of areas.
In the practices described above, an intimate knowledge of several aspects of nature would be utilized into making a management choice that could benefit people, animals, and the ecosystem as a whole. And so a sense of place in working with the land is important to create the successes that we depend on.
Food for Thought
So for this Thanksgiving Day, I will be thankful not only for the food and family in front of me, but also for the thousands of years of collaboration between people, plants, and animals that made the array of food before me possible.
I will also make a commitment to trying to pay more attention to those aspects of nature which may not be able to take care of themselves, or that could flourish with better management, and try to concentrate more on my tending as well as my tilling.
The Farm Team at Pushing the Envelope