Monthly Archives: January 2022

Origins Of Agriculture: Anthropology Vs Mythology

One of the bigger mysteries in modern anthropology is the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to agricultural-based settlements. This is known as the “Agricultural Revolution”. There are as many ideas and theories for the independent and relatively sudden transition from hunter-gatherer to settlements dependent of farming, as there are anthropologists who have pondered the issue. There are proposals for external factors vs. internal (social, cultural, economic) factors; global conditions vs. local conditions; climate related vs. population related; or a combination of circumstances: maybe even just the “it’s time” factor.

The issue is the transition all happening at roughly the same time – about 10,000 years ago, give or take, in Europe, Mesoamerica, the Andean cultures, Egypt, the Middle East, Asia, etc. especially in the Fertile Crescent, N.E. China and Central America. Only North America (with the exception of the eastern half of what would become the United States), Australia and the far northern regions, like Siberia, retained for the most part a nomadic lifestyle.

But the really anomalous thing is that ever since our ancestors came down out of the trees and started walking upright, for all those millions of years, until roughly 10,000 years ago, we were hunter-gatherers or nomads. Then all of a sudden, wham, we settle down and raise crops and become ‘civilized’ just about universally across the social, cultural and geographical board. No one really has solid evidence to explain why.

The only idea NOT given or advanced is in fact the very one which human culture’s themselves give – in their global mythologies. Agriculture (including the domestication of various species of wildlife – cattle, sheep, goats, horses, etc.) was a gift from their gods. Human mythologies presumably written down and/or orally passed from one human generation to the next human generation, gives no credit to humans for the transition. Humans rarely pass up an opportunity to pat themselves of the back, but this is an exception to that generality.

Humans have certain basic needs: air, water, sleep, certain temperature range and food. We’re instant experts at breathing (air) and sleeping. We don’t need to seek out, grow or harvest these. We have some control over temperature, and water supplies are usually pretty constant – rivers, springs, lakes, ponds, etc. Food is the dicey item.

The hunter-gatherer method of finding food takes less effort than agricultural tilling-the-fields settlements, so why settlements and why the shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture is relatively short time frames in diverse parts of the world. Well, what the gods want, the gods get. And if the gods give you a gift, by the gods you’d better make use of it!

These gods (a sampling) oversaw and gave the gift of agriculture to humans thus explaining our transition from hunter-gatherers to settlements and civilization.

* Ninurta was the god of agriculture in the ancient Near East who taught all about crop production.

* Kumarbi: The Hittites had Kumarbi, the father of the gods and a grain deity.

* Osiris (Ancient Egypt): Before being bumped off and dismembered by his brother Seth (Set), and reassembled and resurrected by his sister-wife Isis, and promoted to god of the underworld, he was the god of agriculture who taught men (and women) how to raise corn and vines. That’s why ancient Egyptians depicted him with green skin.

* Ceres was the Roman goddess of grain and agricultural fertility (from which we get the term cereal).

* Demeter was the Greek goddess and counterpart to Ceres; she was the goddess of corn, crops and fruit groves as well as fertility of the fields who taught humans agriculture.

* Triptolemus, under the direction and guidance of Demeter, brought people the gift of wheat and who spread the benefits of agriculture around the world.

* Chaac was the Mayan god of rain, hence a patron of agriculture like maize and vegetables and hence fertility.

* Xipe Totec was the Aztec god of maize and vegetation.

* Viracocha was a top Inca god who walked among humans, and, among other subjects, instructed students on agriculture. Further, Viracocha fathered two deities, Inti and Mama Quilla, who in turn had an offspring Manco Capac, the first Inca ruler, who also taught agriculture to his human subjects. The odd thing about Viracocha, the highest god in the Inca pantheon, was that he was depicted as pale, bearded with Caucasian features and with green eyes. This is quite akin to the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl (Kakalcan to the Mayan and otherwise known throughout Mesoamerica under various aliases).

They both, Viracocha and Quetzalcoatl departed their respective regions to head over and across the sea with an “I’ll be back” promise. That the Aztecs mistook the Spaniard Cortes for the return of Quetzalcoatl# speaks volumes about what Quetzalcoatl looked like – white, bearded, with Caucasian features. Alas, the enigma here is that there never was any cultural contact between Mesoamerica and the Incas, so why the similarity between Viracocha and Quetzalcoatl? Some New Agers view these white bearded deities of the Americas, who mysteriously vanish, as Jesus in the flesh. That aside, the important point is that Viracocha was a travelling professor of agriculture.

* Shennong: In Chinese mythology there’s Shennong, the farmer god who invented the plough and taught people how to farm.

* Inari was in Shinto Japanese mythology a rice and fertility god.

* Bulul was a Philippines rice god who looked over seeds and the harvest.

* Nummo or Nommo (hybrid creatures) of the African Dogon culture of Mali were teachers (from the star Sirius according to some) who taught farming to mankind.

Of course what our ancient ancestors viewed as supernatural gods and goddesses, we think of them today more akin to flesh-and-blood extraterrestrials (‘ancient astronauts’) who came to Earth long ago with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal humans of that era. The ‘gods’ would have conducted their worldwide agricultural tutorials at roughly the same time, say about 10,000 years ago. Being practical, they ignored regions impractical for low-tech sustainable agriculture like vast deserts, the tundra, tropical rain forests, etc.

Now the obvious question is why would the ‘gods’ want to give us the gift of agriculture in the first place? That can probably be summed up by the Biblical phrase “be fruitful and multiply”. In a hunter-gatherer society, babies are a burden. They contribute no labour, consume resources, and divert time and energy required for their care away from the daily survival tasks at hand. Since you have to carry your newborn brat around, being a nomadic troop, it hinders your hunting-gathering, so it is best to keep your brats well spaced – every four or five years apart minimum, so one brat can start to contribute a bit to the greater good before your next one pops out into the world.

But once in a settlement scenario, with a reliable food supply, you can start dropping your little bundles of joy nearly every year. There will be the establishment of a sort of child care centre or facility where one person, unable for health or elderly reasons to work the fields can look after all the little darlings, leaving mum free to toil away in the rice paddies or whatever. Though infant mortality will take its toll in either a hunter-gatherer society or in a settlement community, the more frequently bundles are dropped, the faster the population will increase; more workers to produce new and widen fields already under cultivation; build buildings, etc. And of importance too, once you take up a settlement way of life, then you have a need to defend that territory since a lot of sweat and toil went into staking out the community’s land claim and making it productive. A rapid population increase makes defending your turf easier.

But what’s in it for the ‘gods’? Two things – first mythologies around the world are full of references that the ‘gods’ created humans to do the hard work, just like the CEO and Board of Directors of a mining company hires the great unwashed to actually do the hard work – go down into the mines with picks and shovels, etc. while the CEO and company watches from on high: more population – more workers. That’s probably the real reason Adam and Eve got booted out of Eden and directed to start the daily grind and toil of farming (Genesis 3:23). It was probably all a setup from the get-go.

Secondly, what do ‘gods’ want? Well, to be worshiped. Do you get a greater buzz out of a hundred people bowing and scraping down and building small monuments to you, or a thousand or a million doing the same and building great big monuments to your glory? No dictator ever wants to appear in public and not have anyone turn out to render a worshiping salute.

Having achieved their objective, well it’s on to the next inhabited planet for another challenge in civilizing the great unwashed.

And so, thanks to the ‘gods’, or ‘ancient astronauts’, most of us no longer have to wander the lands in search of our daily bread!

# In all fairness, not all scholars believe there actually was a connection.

Your Wedding Ceremony – Celebrating the Four Earth Holidays in Your Wedding Ceremony

There are four other seasons to consider when you are planning your wedding ceremony. These come to us from the ancient Northern European agricultural calendar. I have worked with these holidays for over 20 years now and there are things about their symbolism that I like even more than I like the solstices and equinoxes. (Remember that these are the dates for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.) But just as their better known counterparts, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, do, these 4 seasons offer new and interesting metaphors to deepen the meaning of your perfect wedding ceremony and support you in your happily and healthily ever after. (I confess, there is something subtle and joyous about these holidays — I can almost feel them coming, even if I am not paying attention to the calendar.)

Candlemas: Reawakening – February 1:

This is an ancient time of initiation. What role do you assume as you marry? How will this marriage make you a better and stronger person? How does your wedding ceremony celebrate and support those strengths?

Beltane: Passion – May 1:

Cut through the inhibitions keeping you from the life you desire. Use your passion to manifest your dreams of a lifetime lived happily and healthily ever after with your beloved.

Lammas: Everlasting Love – August 1:

Life is as juicy as a ripe peach. Take a bite and enjoy! You have all you need. Feel full and grateful! Share your wonder and your gratitude with the world. Summer Love is slow and relaxed. Create a wedding where you are slow and relaxed!

Hallowmas: Building on Tradition – October 31:

Look into your future through the lens of your past. Face your shadow and make your peace. What knowledge do your ancestors offer you — that you want and that you no longer need? If you have traditions you wish to honor, this is the perfect holiday to support that. How will you incorporate your heritage into your wedding vows, your wedding ceremony and your marriage?

Southside CSA in Brooklyn – Supporting Local Farmers Through Community Shared Agriculture

With more and more New Yorkers clamoring for the freshest greens green can buy, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pickups are sprouting up around the five boroughs. Southside CSA is one of the trend’s latest offshoots opening just this year and serving the Greenpoint and Williamsburg areas of Brooklyn.

Just as with the NYC Greenmarkets, the ubiquitous citywide farmer’s market, CSA shares-veggies, fruits, eggs, and wine-hail from Hudson Valley farmlands. However, there is one key distinction between the systems.

“You don’t get to choose your produce, but you’re sharing in the farmer’s bounty,” said CSA core group member, Esther Giangrande. Ms. Giangrande teamed up with the other founding group members through the Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA low-income fundraising committee. She had been using the CSA’s current pickup location, Bridget Urban Wine Bar in Williamsburg, as a venue for fundraisers to benefit Greenpoint Soup Kitchen.

The way a CSA works is that before the harvest season begins, (for Southside CSA’s produce, the season runs for 20 weeks, from June 22 through November 2), members decide whether they would like to purchase a full share or half share. All CSAs are based on a similar concept. Share prices are literally seed money for the farmer, based on what is needed to grow the crops promised for the season. For greens only, full shares cost $400 per season, and members pick up their weekly veggie supply every Monday at night Bridget. With half-shares, which cost $200, the pick-up is only every other week. Over the course of the 20 weeks however, the different shares amount to $20 worth per week, roughly the amount that the farmer would receive at market for his goods. Because full shares are so large, it is not uncommon for three or four locals to divide the produce. Before each pickup, a list of arriving vegetables is posted on the Southside CSA blog, leaving time for members to find suitable recipes or organize impromptu dinner parties.

Southside CSA is unique in that the share has a spicy twist: in keeping with the neighborhood’s Latin tradition, the vegetables include several staple ingredients for Mexican meals such as sweet corn, cilantro, and quelites from the Mexican-influenced MimoMex Farm, alongside produce characteristic of the Hudson Valley.

For some, the appeal of Southside lies in the uncertainty of the outcome of the harvest season. While with the payment of the share money there is an expectation that the promised produce will be delivered, nothing is definite. In that way, CSAs offer more than just fresh vegetables, they offer an insight into the farming experience.

Another unique aspect of the CSA system is that there is no set staff aside from the few founding members; instead, it depends on the dedication of its members to volunteer to help with organizing the pick-ups (much like a food co-op). A member-base workforce is what makes Southside so sustainable: by taking care of the distribution and marketing of the incoming goods, the CSA saves busy farmers the burden of worrying about storage and shipping. Standard shift duties include meeting and unloading the produce truck, setting up for fruit and vegetable pickup, and helping distribute the produce to fellow members.

Southside CSA is more than just artichoke heart; it’s core members are committed to local outreach and uphold their pledge to fresh food for all by donating leftover pickup vegetables to soup kitchens. Southside CSA has partnered with Craig’s Kitchen, a local community action group, that supplies soup kitchens around Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and other Brooklyn neighborhoods. The organization shares the CSA’s belief in healthy, organic, and fresh meals for all.

The CSA movement has had incredible momentum, with more than 18 new distribution centers opening just this year in addition to Southside (there were about 50 CSAs in 2008); compared to the NYC Greenmarket, which has 46 locations throughout the boroughs, it seems that the CSA are becoming a favored local destination for fresh food. Not only does a CSA membership provide you with more beets for your buck, but it’s also more convenient because chances are there is one right in your neighborhood.

[The Bridge Wine Share, wines exclusively from the Bridge Vineyard of North Fork, Long Island, are $360 full/$180 half. The NY Wine Share, a mix of reds and whites from the various wine-producing regions of the state from Long Island to the Finger Lakes to the Hudson Valley, are $400 full/$200 half. Like the produce and egg shares, wine shares are also distributed Monday evenings at Bridget. The vegetable and fruit shares complement weekly wine offerings.]

Only Four in Nevada

As hard as it may be to comprehend there was a wine industry in the U.S. before there was a wine industry in California; pre-statehood. It seems the earliest effort to develop a vineyard may have been as far back as 1619. However, Thomas Jefferson experimented with vines but the results were not enough to really produce consistent crops. According to research by Jess Zimmerman, in 1798 a family from Switzerland (Dufour) planted a large vineyard in Kentucky using European vine stock. But, soon the Dufour Family moved their winery operation to Ohio.

As with all early efforts at commercial wine making, the rootstock used was of European origins and did not do well in American soil, with the climate conditions and indigenous plant diseases. However, when the European vine (vitis vinifera) was combined with a Native American grape (vitis labrusca) then the wine industry in American had a hearty vine and good fruit. Today, many universities are engaged in research trying to produce the perfect grape vine for wines, table grapes and raisins.

So, there is somewhat of a debate as to the state with bragging rights for the “first commercial winery/vineyard in America”. Some researchers let the debate live on and just give Kentucky and Ohio equal billing. The Dufour’s Kentucky’s vineyard did not do well initially and Ohio was the place where Dufour found the right vine to survive beyond only a few years before disease took its toll.

Interestingly, all 50 states have winey operations today. Some of the largest operations are in California, Washington, Oregon, New York and some states have a token presence; referring to Nevada. Nevada has 4 wineries equally divided between Southern Nevada (Las Vegas area) and Northern Nevada (Reno area). Grapes are not a big crop in Nevada, due in large part to heat, drought conditions and harsh winters. Some research is being conducted, most notably, in Oregon, California, Washington and New York to develop vines that will produce quality fruit in various climates and elevations. Varietals that seem to do well in a desert climate are Rieslings, Pinot Gris and some Rhone’s and Zinfandels and Merlots in Southern Nevada.

As noted previously, Nevada has 4 wineries; all have some vines planted that range from 3 acres to 10 acres. By most standards these are not significant size vineyards. To produce enough wine to be viable, all Nevada wineries do buy additional fruit from California. In approximately 4 hours drive time, Nevada wineries can have high quality fruit delivered from some of the world’s finest vineyards in the Central Valley of CA, Napa, Sonoma and Santa Ynez.

Mr. Frank Boul started the first winery in Nevada in 1933 and his wines were served in some very nice hotels in the U.S. Today, the longest serving winemaker and winery owner in Nevada is Mr. Jack Sanders who was the founder of the Pahrump Valley Winery; a few years ago he sold the Winery to Bill and Gretchen Loken. But it wasn’t long until Bill Sanders started another winery in Pahrump-Sanders Family Winery. “In Southern Nevada, we have success with the Zinfandel, Petite Syrah and Merlot,” said Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Sanders has been active for 30 years in trying to build the wine business in Nevada. “In the 80’s Nevada politicians wanted a focus on rural Nevada as a tourism draw,” said Sanders. “Wineries are great for rural Nevada because they were set up for agriculture and wineries could attract more visitors.” Now the restrictions for growth of wineries in Nevada are almost insurmountable-87% of the land is owned by the Federal government and now there is the problem of water rights.

Northern Nevada also has two wineries-Tahoe Ridge Winery and Bistro and Churchill Vineyards with 8 acres and 10 acres respectively in vines. Tahoe Ridge Winery and Bistro is about 45 minutes from Reno in Minden, Nevada. Churchill Vineyards is in Fallon, Nevada and is part of the 1,200 acre Frey Ranch owned by Colby and Ashley Frey. Churchill is the newest winery in Nevada, founded in 2001 and is about 1 hour from Reno.

The Frey’s are fifth generation farmers on the land. Their decision to go into the wine business was partly due to the drought situation in Nevada; grapes take about 10% of the water required for other Frey Ranch crops. In addition Colby had gained some experience about wines and felt like that was a good move. The 10 acre vineyard is planted in Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris with their red varietal wines coming from California grapes. In total they produce 1,000 cases per year.

In addition to a small vineyard, they Frey’s grow grain and hay crops on the remaining 1,200 acres. With crops such as wheat, barley and rye they have perfect raw materials for distilled spirits-wheat, barley and rye. Guess what? They have built a just opened a tasting room for their wines and distilled spirits that is very nice and welcoming. Through the glass wall in the tasting room visitors can see two copper tanks that are impressive. They distill vodka, brandy, gin and bourbon. Theirs is the first commercial distillery in Nevada. In a separate facility is the winery operation that houses fermentation tanks, oak barrels, and a new bottling line. All of which makes for a top-of-the-line equipment for making wine and spirits.

Tahoe Ridge Winery and Bistro, the oldest winery (founded in 1990) in Nevada, has two facilities-Minden (winery) and Carson City. With 8 acres in vines and plentiful California grapes, Tahoe Ridge Winery and Bistro claims they produce several thousand cases of wine annually.

With 35 years in the travel and tourism industry (airline and tour operations), focusing on leisure travel to California Wine Country, I must say, given half a chance by the State of Nevada, wines in Nevada could see growth. Having lived in La Vegas and now Reno, I have visited these wineries and find their wines to be very respectable. Each of these four locations offers an ambiance that is unique. All are worth a drive to visit them when in Las Vegas or Reno. These wineries are growing fine fruit at 2,600 feet elevation in hot and dry Pahrump and at 4,200 feet in the Reno area in hot and now dry Fallon and Minden.

Wine and vineyards have a big component of agriculture about them. If you are looking for the feel of farming with state of the art winemaking facilities try Churchill. Vineyards. If you are visiting Southern Nevada, you should talk with Jack Sanders who has worked hard to make wine a growing industry in Nevada. Good wine and food is available at Tahoe Ridge and Pahrump Valley Wineries. See you there.