Biology in Human Affairs

By Walter V. Bingham; Hugh S. Cumming et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter XI
EFFORTS TO INCREASE FOOD RESOURCES

by DONALD F. JONES

HISTORY has much to say about generals and battles. Its pages are filled with the deeds of emperors and kings, too seldom glorious. But the major factor in the growth of states and empires has been the origin and development of domesticated animals and cultivated plants. The United States has become a rich and powerful country, primarily because maize, the corn of the Indians, was so well adapted to the vast areas of tillable land that it laid the foundation of a prosperous agriculture. Canada developed an early maturing wheat, well fitted to northern soil and climate, and so opened a new domain for settlement. Ireland lost one and one-half million people by death and emigration when, for three successive years, the fungous disease Phytophthora ravaged the potato crop. After the discovery of a chemical spray that protected the plant from the fungus, the Irish prospered.

The plants and animals that nourish us, clothe us, and shelter us from the weather are so taken for granted that few stop to think how recently they became available. Only after long effort and many years of patient searching for useful plants and animals in every part of the world, only after their gradual improvement for man's best uses, did these products reach their present value in agriculture, commerce, and industry.

In "Ivanhoe" there is a banquet scene which gives a vivid picture of early days in twelfth century England.

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