Corn: Who Do You Think You Are?

2010 March 16
by Isa Vasquez
Town of Secota

"Lithograph of the Town of Secota," Thomas Hariot, A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1590)

Having recently watched the documentary Food Inc. with the staff here at ASHP, I am reminded of a Teaching American History Retreat entitled “Three Worlds Meet” about the settlement at Jamestown, and a close reading we had teachers do of this 1590 print.

The task was to pick a subject represented in the image and write a short narrative from that perspective. The teachers of course chose various people in the image, but having recently read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and having no need to prepare this activity for classroom use myself, I chose the corn. If the single breed, genetically perfected corn of today could follow its lineage back in time á la the celebrities of “Who Do You Think You Are?,” what vast worlds of variety and sustainability it would find!

Having been planted next to legumes not for the sake of saving ravaged and dying soil but rather as part of a system for preserving a harmony of interdependent agricultural perfection, having had its own natural variety encouraged and exploited instead of weeded out, hoarded and patented, and having grown in proximity to millions of plant and animal species that our modern corn has never seen thanks to farm pesticides, our technologically advanced lonely-at-the-top genetically perfected über-corn would surely envy its “primitive” cousin for whom no chemical fertilizers, life-exterminating corn tractors, or genetic modifications were necessary. Corn would discover a diverse group of ancestors that didn’t know the pressures of having to be perfect all by themselves; they were part of a perfectly sustainable agricultural system, and that was good enough for them.

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