For decades, we have been told that agriculture in the U.S. Southwest evolved from a blending of pre-Spanish-contact Indigenous crops and technologies diffused from Mesoamerica, blended in historic times with Spanish-derived crops and practices brought in by Jesuit missionaries like Father Eusebio Kino or Franciscans like Father Francisco Garces. The truth is much more complex, interesting and fun!
There were many food crops domesticated by Indigenous cultures in the region we now call Arid America in addition to those diffused from Mesoamerica. While corn, some beans, and squash did come north into what’s now the U.S. from Mesoamerica beginning over 4,000 years ago, quite a few others underwent much of their domestication in Arid America. And historically, most of the crop varieties and livestock breeds brought into Mexico came from the Canary Islands, and ultimately from North Africa and the Middle East, not Europe. Padre Kino was not the founder of Spanish agriculture in southern Arizona and northern Sonora, for crops like Sonoran bread wheat and watermelons had arrived prior to his entry, as did Churro sheep and Criollo cattle. Water harvesting and other desert-adapted agricultural techniques still used today are a blend of Indigenous, Canarian, and Arab/Phoenician influences.
In this July 21, 2022 presentation for the nonprofit Old Pueblo Archaeology Center’s “Third Thursday Food for Thought” series, ethnobotanist, agricultural ecologist, and MacArthur Fellow Gary Nabhan, PhD, shared some of his insights about many of the Arid American domesticated species.