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Thanksgiving Lessons From the Pasture

By   /  November 23, 2020  /  Comments Off on Thanksgiving Lessons From the Pasture

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This is Thanksgiving week here in the United States. For our international readers, Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest, and a time to count our blessings and thank everyone who contributed to all the good things in our lives. Families and friends get together for a big meal on Thursday that usually includes turkey and stuffing, and, since 1876, it’s also included a football game.

A 1605 map of Plymouth Harbor by Samuel de Champlain showing wigwams and cultivated fields. Public domain graphic via Wikipedia.

The history of the Holiday dates back to the 1600s. British pilgrims sited their new colony where a Patuxet village had been. The former residents had all died from a disease, leaving behind cleared fields for the new residents. But the Pilgrims didn’t know how to farm in this new land, and would not have made it without the help of Tisquantum, better known as Squanto. He was the only surviving Patuxet. He escaped the disease because he had been kidnapped and sold into slavery by an earlier British visitor to the new world. He returned home after regaining his freedom.

As the first extension agent in the New World, Squanto taught the Pilgrims the skills they needed to survive. And that’s our first Thanksgiving lesson – listen to the experts and participate in programs that benefit you and the land you care for, just as the pilgrims did, and like Cornelius Joe does though the Conservation Stewardship program.

That first Thanksgiving, celebrated not only the harvest, but the relationship between the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag neighbors, another Thanksgiving lesson: we all survive because of relationships where we get something from another, even plants that survive thanks to the work of soil microbes.

Corn was probably on the menu for that first Thanksgiving. It was a new food for the settlers, provided to them by their Wampanoag neighbors. The lesson here: maybe we should occasionally try new foods, though I’m still not sure about eating fly larvae as this Australian scientist suggests.

In this illustration from a 1911 “Teaching of Agriculture in the High School” book, Squanto demonstrates putting a fish in each hole where corn is planted to provide fertilizer. It’s a story taught to U.S. children even today. What we did not typically learn was the more complicated story of the man himself. This Wikipedia entry is a good place to learn more. Illustration is public domain in USA.

We don’t know exactly when the first Thanksgiving took place because no one wrote it down. Our lesson: write things down, even if it’s just a short journal entry: “Thanksgiving, ate turkey, tried corn for the first time. It was good.” You’ll find, as Don Ashford does, that even the briefest of entries bring a flood of good memories.

Finally, the first settlers probably would have done a little better if they’d had a plan and developed some farming skills before they arrived. It’s an important reminder today too as we take a pasture walk with Greg Judy and learn how his drought plan helped him survive.

One last lesson: In 1622, Squanto died from “Indian Fever,” the same disease that decimated his village. Let’s all be careful out there!

Be safe, be well, and thanks for reading. I’m grateful for you and all that you’ve brought to my life!

Kathy

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  • Published: 2 months ago on November 23, 2020
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  • Last Modified: December 1, 2020 @ 5:04 pm
  • Filed Under: The Scoop

About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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