ENDURING SEEDS: Native American Argriculture and W by Gary Paul Nabhan

ENDURING SEEDS: Native American Argriculture and W

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A brave if ragged try at a daunting goal: to examine American Indian farming practices--above all, traditional approaches to genetic selection--in the context of ongoing crises in modern commercial-scale agriculture and land or water management throughout the Americas. Nabhan, a Phoenix-based ethnobotanist, uses the vehicle of a freewheeling travelogue through past and present Indian farm sites as a focus for a whole tangle of concerns: "What were once considered separate issues--cultural survival, agricultural stability and diversity, and wildlife preservation--now seem to be tightly intertwined." The crux of his thesis is that different relationships between man and domesticated food plants, with varied genetic and ecological consequences, are a function of a society's cultural values and that local mixed subsistence-farming communities tend to hang on to an active sense of interplay between cultivated plants and wild species. The assaults on this heritage that he documents are dismal though hardly surprising. The most obvious is physical destruction of Native American farmlands, along with seedstocks, by government land-allotment practices on reservations and a host of shortsighted water projects. Among the species affected by the deterioration or wholesale loss of habitats are wild rice and a rare gourd in the Everglades, decimated along with the tree on which it climbs by various rounds of swamp draining, flooding, and burning accompanied by rapid soil degradation. Nabhan is not the author to let his valuable and troubling material speak for itself without a lot of mawkish rhetorical poses ("I knew it was the time for braiding seedstocks together again") and flaccid attempts at journalistic scene-setting. Yet the effort does substantially rise above a sometimes infelicitous execution, to bring across the lesson that strategies of food-plant manipulation for human purposes are at their best when they retain culturally rooted links with the genetic reserves of wild relatives and remain cognizant of wild habitats. Maybe there's a better book in this somewhere, but meanwhile Nabhan provides much useful chapter and verse about a subject not previously popularized in great detail by sustainable-agriculture enthusiasts.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1989
ISBN: 86547-343-9
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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