Horticulture in the Heartland

Horticulture student trimming hedge

What: Horticulture in the Heartland, daylong gardening seminar.

When: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 1.

Where: Clinton Community College, 1000 Lincoln Blvd., Clinton.

How much: $30, including coffee, rolls and lunch.

Registration: Due Feb. 21. Make checks payable to Clinton Trees Forever and send them to: Horticulture in the Heartland, Clinton Community College, 1000 Lincoln Blvd., Clinton, IA 52732.

For more information: Call 563-242-4771.

Gardening changed Everything

by Alma Gaul
QC Times

A gardener takes a hoe, scratches a depression in the soil and puts down a corn kernel. The gardener expects the kernel to grow into a plant, producing corn to eat, possibly even enough to preserve for later.

This act of planting — or gardening — is something those of us living today take for granted. Of course we grow our food. Gardening is now done on a vast scale by specialists, but it begins with the same basic act of putting seeds in the ground.

This act was not, however, always taken for granted.

The act of purposefully producing and preserving food was a major turning point in the history of human beings.

How this practice began, how it forever changed humans' relationship with nature and how it continues to play out today will be discussed Saturday, March 1, during the daylong "Horticulture in the Heartland" event at Clinton Community College.

The talk on this subject will be given by Michael Wiant, the director of the Dickson Mounds Museum near Lewistown, Ill.

While other presentations will cover familiar topics such as growing daylilies and pruning trees, Wiant's will focus on "a dimension of gardening people may not have thought about," he said.

A major result of gardening — growing one's own food — is that it allowed the formation of settlements and, eventually, cities. People didn't have to keep moving in a hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

"The farming revolution is what created our society today ... and what caused the human population to explode globally," Wiant said. "It also poses the greatest challenge we face today, the challenge of the human population."

Wiant, who also has taught sociology-anthropology at Illinois State University, will begin by explaining how the people of the Dickson Mounds area learned to cultivate and store sunflowers, lamb's quarter and marsh elder seeds some 2,000 years before Christ.

A big leap in food production occurred about 600 years after Christ, when people began to grow maize, or corn, a plant introduced from Mexico.

Ultimately, this abundance gave rise to Cahokia, a city of 10,000 to 20,000 people near today's Collinsville, Ill., that covered six square miles during the time period of 700 to 1400 A.D.

Giant earthen mounds left by these people still exist, and the area across from St. Louis is maintained as an Illinois State Historic Site.

Why did the city and its civilization fail? It is a question that has not been fully answered.

But it does raise questions. And not just in the historical sense.

Depletion of resources probably contributed to the city's decline, Wiant said. As an expanding population cut down all of the nearby timber, a denuded landscape eroded, which filled streams with sediment and may have caused greater flooding.

Maybe they became too dependent on one crop and when that failed, perhaps through drought, so did they.

"You have these cascading kinds of events affecting society, politics and the environment," Wiant said.

Another major point of his talk is that the change farming brought to society is a relatively recent event.

In today's world — where profound changes seem to occur between television news cycles — it's mind-boggling to think of 4,000 years ago as the recent past. But in terms of the Earth's history, it is.

As such, the farming revolution is still an experiment, the outcome of which remains to be seen. Increased food production encourages population growth, which, in turn, encourages more food production in a kind of race.

We in the United States are generally doing well in this race, "but there are whole countries that live on the edge," Wiant said.

He is concerned that global warming will influence areas of high food productivity. If there is a prolonged drought in a bread basket area, for example, the consequences will go tumbling through the food chain.

Is there a tipping point beyond which the human race declines?

All of these are reasons, as he says, "to be circumspect," to be careful to consider all related circumstances before acting, to take the 'big picture' look, to be reflectful.

"Human beings are part of the ecosystem," he said. "We should be circumspect about that. In a short period of time, we have changed the face of the Earth."