Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Paradise Lost

Correspondent and friend of Oak Watch David Olsen emailed a wonderful article to me, "The Agriculture Of The Garden Of Eden" by J. Russell Smith (more famously author of Tree Crops, A Permanent Agriculture and hero of this blog).

My own thinking has been returning again and again to the concept of a "paradise lost;" a time when humankind was nourished largely by tree crops, and particularly by acorns. There is plenty of archaeological evidence of this: Mortars and pestles found at sites that pre-date The Age Of Grains (What were they grinding? Acorn flour!), evidence that even once people began growing grains these were primarily used as animal fodder while humans continued to eat acorns.

And, by all indications, these acorn-eating cultures - these balanocultures - were among the most prosperous cultures the world has known. To paraphrase Dire Straits, they got their protein for nothing and their fat for free - or close to it.

Of course, as I'm finding so often, no sooner do I think something than I find out that J. Russell Smith a) thought of it long before I did, b) brought greater clarity of thought to the idea, and c) expressed it more eloquently than I ever could.

Paradise lost? Smith goes back to the original paradise lost, Eden, to explore the idea of a time when humankind lived largely on tree crops rather than working themselves and soil to death growing annual grain crops:

The story of the Garden of Eden has been extrensively used by those who would influence human action. But strange to say, one of its most evident lessons appears to have been overlooked. It is for the farmer (emphasis mine) that the well-known drama has the plainest teaching of all. The race has been subjected to needless toil because the agriculturist has left this part of the Scripture entirely to the theologians... we can agree that the agriculture of the Garden was good, because it supported the race comfortably and without labor... The inhabitants of the Garden of Eden plainly lived without toil. They were born to that leisure for which we strive fiercely in this work-a-day world. So far as man was concerned, the sting of the expulsion was the fact that he had to go forth and eat bread in the sweat of his face... The offender... was driven forth from the Garden that was full of trees. The trees had made it Paradise.

I'd love to simply reprint the whole article here. I have already probably overstepped the bounds of "fair use" by quoting this much directly from the text, but a) it's too brilliant not to do so, and b) my goal here is not to claim credit for Smith's brilliance but to make it known to a wider audience.

J. Russell Smith was decades ahead of his time. Sometimes the cost of being that far ahead in your thinking is to be forgotten by the time your ideas finally occur to lesser minds like mine and become a reality.

More from the Garden of Eden coming soon...

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