The Origins of Food Production

J, Diamond. (1999). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. Chapter 4, 5, 6, and 8

So for this week blog for Plants and People Biology class we were to read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. I talked about in my last blog but it was chapter 7 and I did’t have a problem getting into the book that time but this week it was a bit harder maybe cause I had this horrible cold, but I found that National Geographic made a documentary about it, So I watch some and that when I got more interested into the book and I picked it up and started to read it, and it got a lot more in-depth, but watch the documentary help understand where in the world the areas Jared was talking about.

So in Chapter 4 and its called Farmer Power and its starts with Jared telling a story about when he was a teenager working on a farm in summer in Montana for a man named Fred Hirschy from Switzerland. We met a Native American from the tribe Blackfoot named Levi, the first feeling we get from him that he is polite, gentle, responsible, sober, and well spoken, but this image get shattered when Levi shows up on Sunday morning drunk and cursing and what he cursed stood out in Jared mind “Damn you, Fred Hirschy and damn the ship that brought you from Switzerland!”. So in the USA Jared and other white school-children had been taught in school it was heroic conquest of the American wild west, in Canada when I went to school it was a different story it could of been the new time, I learn it wasn’t has heroic as the states made it out to be. So we get into the topic “How did the farmers win out over the famous warriors?”, So to answer this question we have to go back 7 million years to the start.

So 7 million years ago, all human fed themselves by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants, that was the way of life back then, it was only in the last 11,000 years we start to feed ourselves by farming and herding wild animals, so how did we go about this? So in chapter 5 History’s haves and have-nots we start to answer this question. So farming and herding didn’t happen over night, and it didn’t happen everywhere at the same time either. Some areas still now to this day there isn’t any farming even with all the new technology out there. Some places don’t have the right climates, either being to cold or to dry with no water sources to irrigate. So how did people thousand years ago make a go at this. The earliest known area where initial domestication of wheat was in the Fertile Crescent around 8500 B.C. soon after that crops appears to start to move to other areas like Greece, Germany, Israel, western Iran and Turkey. For herding animals it was in different areas like India, western Eurasian.

So the raise of food production where, when and how did develop globally? In the picture below is from the book and its a picture of the centers of origin of food production.

Since this book was publish they have discover more areas of the origin of food production. The 5 areas that origin domesticated animals are Southwest Asia (sheep, goat), China (pig,silkworm), Mesoamerica (turkey), Andes and Amazonia (llama, guinea pig) and Sahel (guinea fowl). So it started in a few areas and now almost everywhere.

In chapter 6 To farm or Not to farm, why did the hunter-gatherers choose to adopt farming. There had to be a reason but what it that reason and why did they wait until 8500 B.C to do so? Hunter-gatherers where a mobile group cause they had to go where the food was and move with the different season, with farming you had to stay in one area so you can watch your crop and have food storage. Also hunter-gatherer only had children only every 4 years cause a mother of a hunter-gatherer can only carry one child and still be able to gather while a farmer mother where having children every 2 years that half the time of the hunter-gatherer. While a hunter-gatherer can only carry what they can eat and farmer have food storage, and the farmer get more product from animal like milk and fertilize compare to the hunter-gatherer only get the meat and the skins for clothes they don’t get any of the by products of the animals. So slowly the farming got adopted by the hunter-gatherer and all around the world.

In chapter 8 Apples or Indians Jared talks about there 200,000 wild plants species only a few thousand are eaten by humans, and only few hundred crops have been domesticated for crops. Not all of these crops have enough supplements in our diet to support the rise of civilization. Only about a dozen that we call blockbuster and they are the cereals wheat, corn, rice, barley, and sorghum; the pulse soybean; the root or tubers potato, manioc and sweet potato; the sugar sources sugarcane and sugar beet: and the fruit banana. Cereal crops now a days account for more then half of calories consumed worldwide by humans. So why did we only domesticated a few hundred crops, and our failure of domesticate of any new crops even with modern technology tells us that ancient people really did explored virtually all useful wild plants and domesticated all of the ones worth domesticating.

So the question “Apples or Indians”, so apples where first domesticated in Eurasia but there was many wild apples in North America. So why didn’t the Native Americans domesticate the for there use. We will never know the true answer but we can for sure take educated guesses, one popular guess would be the apple would of been a great crop for the natives but the natives would have to settle in one spot and cultivated them, but that wasn’t the traditional way of life for the hunter-gatherers. And Native American are very traditional race of humans.

I found the book to be very interesting when I finally got into the book. Tho a lot of my classmates found it dry. It helps to know the background of the book and where everything is located so you can picture the scene that Jared Diamond paints for you.






How to domesticate a plant

M, Pollan. The Botany of Desire xiii – xxv, J,Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel 114-130

After waking up to a very snowy morning I decide it was a good time to get cozy  with a book or two, and my dog Kong who is a old Boston bulldog cross with a pug. The two books that I grab were The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. In The Botany of Desire Michael is in his garden and talking about the “domesticated species”. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared talks about how wild plants became crops.


In The Botany of Desire the introduction chapter The Human Bumblebee, Micheal talks about “What existential difference is there between the human being’s role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebee’s?”. Did I or you choose to plant this particular plant or did this plant make me or you plant it. Now that a great question. Both us and the plant rely on each other, known as “coevolution”. We need the plant as food and the plant needs us or Bumblebee to pollinate and to give it a ride so the genes of that plant can survive since the plant can’t move on its own. Both bees and humans have similar criteria for what attracts us to that particular plants its sweeter and bigger, makes you want to take that once and not the smaller plant beside it.


Micheal also talks about what four plants he choose to tell their story; the apple for sweetness, the tulip for beauty, cannabis for intoxication and the potato for control. These plants represent the four main class  of what we call “domesticated species” a fruit, a flower, a drug plant and a staple food. We have spend the last ten thousand year or more trying to figure out whats the best way to feed, heal, clothe, intoxicate and delight us with plants. How did these plant become domesticated from their wild cousin at where bitter and toxic to the flavorful plants that they are today.

Micheal calls the book “The Botany of Desire”  he says and I agree with him, “it’s because it is as much about the human desires that connect us to these plants as it about the plants themselves”. Humans have the desire and need to learn about everything on how a car runs to what can we grow to feed ourselves.

Chapter 7 , How to make an almond in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond talks about our crops today came from its wild ancestors. How did our crops turn into crops in the first place, cause a lot of the wild species where bitter with toxic like cyanide, or smaller in size and not looking desirable like the wild corn cobs where only a inch to the 1 to 1.5 feet they are today. So Jared ask the question “What caveman or caveman ever got the idea of “domesticating” a plant, and how was it accomplished?”. So starting what does plant domesticating mean? Plant domesticating means growing a plant consciously or unconsciously, to change it from its wild ancestor to a safer and more useful to human consumers. So how would we go about doing that? By starting going into the wild and collecting seeds from plant that looks like the wild one but this one might be sweeter or that it bigger. Which makes this plant a mutant plant cause it not like the others which for the plants survival rate isn’t great for the plant, but the plant had aspect that attract these ancestor farmer. In the picture above on the left is a domesticated almond and on the right is a wild almond you can see some differences between the two the wild one has a hairy shell while the domesticated one has a smooth shell.

So for the plants to become domesticated they had to evolve over time, this didn’t happen over night. Like the famous saying goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. So how did plants mange this? Well like every living thing plants need to spread their offspring where the offspring can thrive so they can repeat the cycle. But plants can’t move so how is this done in the first place? So the plant need to adapted because the strongest one will survive, so some plants made their seed float on the water or be carried by the wind or have burs so the get attached to an animal. When humans started collecting seeds and start planting themselves in gardens this jump started the evolution of the plants now they aren’t fighting with other plant seeds for what little resources to be putting in a plowed, fertilized and water garden. Then to have the farmer weed out the other weeds so that plant had the greatest chance to survive and evolve into the crops that they are now today.





The Triumph of Seeds

Hanson, T. 2015. The Triumph of Seeds. New York: Basic Books. p xiii-18; p55-80.

This book is about Thor Hanson who is a seed biologist. Thor share stories from his trips into Central America, to his trip in New Mexico to a coal bed looking for fossil seeds. This book has open my eyes on how a seed turns into a plant.

In the first part of the book he talks about  about going to Central America looking for new seeding or seed of the almendro tree Dipteryx panamensis.

 downloadThis is an almendro tree if your wondering, cause I was for sure wanted to know that the little seeding from pg 5 would grow into. The almendro tree can grow up to 150 ft tall and 10 ft around the trunk when matured. Also he talks about the avocados and how to grow them with tooth picks and in a glass of water. I have tried this has child with my dad, but mine always seem to rot. But reading this book makes me want to try my luck again with the avocado seed. Cause who wouldn’t want fresh avocado all year around mmm all the guacamole I could make and eat.


The next adventure with Thor we are in New Mexico at a coal bed, with Bill DiMichele.  Bill DiMichele is the curator of fossil plants for the Smithsonian. Coal beds are made of carbonized remains of an ancient swamp forest, all the plants from them where spore based plants. I couldn’t believe that one time spore based plants where as all the pines outside that you see every day driving to work or school. If you are wondering what what would of look like Thor say “Carboniferous: a steamy swamp festooned with huge, mossy-topped trees like something from a Dr.Seuss book, and populated by newt like amphibians larges as horse.” Now that would of been a sight to see.

I enjoyed how Thor talked about his experiences, on how a seed turns into a tree and the humor he puts into the book. I unfortunately didn’t get the last chapter read, but I will be finishing this book on my spare time and I believe others would enjoy this book as well.

100 Mile Diet

MacKinnon. JB., Smith. A., 2007. The 100-Mile Diet. Vintage Canada Edition, Toronto, Canada.

This book is call the 100 mile diet a year of local eating by Alisa Smith and J.B Mackinnon. Alisa and J.B take turns writing a different month each so you get both of their views. The book is broken up into 12 chapter one chapter for each month, and with each month you get a recipe from herb tea to poached salmon with cream sauce. The book cover Alisa and J.B experiences on their struggle with not finding much local food in their supermarkets, having to rely on farmer’s markets, local farm and the fisherman’s market.

I have read months March to October so far and I plan to read the rest of the book. I find the book very interesting, I’m learning new facts every time I pick the book up and read a chapter. I was shocked to learn month June about how that most of seafood that caught on North American coast are being shipped to China to be processed then its imported back to USA and Canada, I can’t believe that it’s cheaper to ship our seafood to get processed then to have it processed in our country.

What I didn’t like about when everyone asked if they where getting bored yet. It’s not that hard to come up with different recipes even when you have a limited local diet. People are getting stuck in routine and to scared to try something new and different. We have become brainwashed by the big brand companies cause they don’t to lose you has a customer. So you go to a supermarket and by produce that comes from other parts of the world when you have it growing down the road from you locally.

This is a great story I would suggest friends and family to read this book. You learn a lot about the local farms around Vancouver that I had no that were there. The goal to get people to eat local, it doesn’t mean you have to do the 100 mile diet but it not that hard to eat local and support your farming neighbors.