Harvesting the California Landscape

Hollister Apple Orchard

One striking detail I’ve noticed in my initial research is the Ohlone and other societies of California were not just foragers, they were harvesters of the landscape. Burning brush, sowing seeds, pruning plants. All deliberate actions taken to encourage the landscape to produce the most nutritious and desirable foods. In this way they were practicing a sort of “wild” agriculture. Wild in the sense that the harvesting took place among forests and fields. Not what we see today with commercial farms or even the neat rows of vegetables in backyard gardens.

Native American societies were the original gardeners of California.

While today there is a common misconception that fires are bad, controlled fires were successfully used by Native Americans. They tended the forests with well placed fires to clear underbrush and make space for new seedlings. Grasslands were also burned to create mineral rich topsoil to enhance the growth of edible plants. Far from being dangerous, fires were expertly manipulated to provide an essential ecological service. The main goal being food production, other benefits included the clearing of insects and improving the soil.

Sources:

Fire Ecology:
Fire History in Coast Redwood Stands in the Northeastern Santa Cruz Mountains
Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project:
Native American Land Use Practices and Ecological Impact

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