As we celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s appropriate to consider all we have to be thankful for, even during these difficult times. All of us need to remember and thank our ancestors for having the courage to immigrant to this country and later spread out and settle from coast to coast since we are a nation of immigrants. We should also spend time thinking of the bountiful supply of food available in this country. There are always news features during Thanksgiving focusing on what foods are different today from that first Thanksgiving. Even here we are a “nation of immigrants.” We take for granted a harvest of corn, soybeans, wheat, and other crops each year. But did you ever stop to think where our staple crops originated from?
· Corn – what many consider the ultimate American crop is actually thought to have originated in the Tehuacan Valley of Mexico with evidence dating back about 6,000 years. Evidence suggests its widespread production here by 1,000 AD.
· Hard red winter wheat – most Kansas school children have learned the story of Russian Mennonites bringing Turkey Red with them to Kansas over a century ago. Wheat in general originated from Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) about 10,000 years ago. While a minor U.S. crop oats are thought to have originated in Egypt. Barley also comes from this region.
· Soybeans – most are familiar with soybeans originating in China several thousand years ago from the eastern half of northern China.
· Grain sorghum – this crop originated in Africa and evidence for its cultivation go back at least 3,000 years.
· Cotton – Old World cotton first appears about 7,000 years ago with one species in the Indus region of India and the other in the area of Syria/Saudi Arabia. New world cotton was domesticated in Mesoamerica (Mexico) around 3,500 years ago and in Peru 5,000 year ago.
· Alfalfa – this forage staple originated from the Mediterranean area, most likely Iran, and dating back around 4,000 BC.
· Peanuts – this legume arises from South America, Peru, with the earliest evidence indicating its use almost 8,000 years back.
· Potatoes – like peanuts, it is believed the modern potato originated in Peru, also around 7,000 years back, but wild potatoes grew and were used from the U.S. down through South America.
· Sugar beet – again from Africa, probably around Egypt thousands of years ago.
· Sunflower – It might be nice to end with an important crop plant that actually originated in the U.S., especially since we live in the “Sunflower State.” It was first domesticated in Mexico and again later in the Mississippi Valley around 2,500 BC. So while its origins are south of here, at least we can claim to have domesticated it.
Why this list? It might be proper to give thanks for all the work done by many over centuries that resulted in the crops we enjoy today.