For much of the 20th century many scholars have claimed that indigenous farmers in North America were marginal producers who often sowed the seeds of their own downfall through their negative impacts on the resource base. I use an agronomic analysis to deconstruct this argument, focusing on soil and crop characteristics that shape agricultural systems. I conclude that indigenous cropping systems were predominantly permanent and intensive, rather than fallow-base. Furthermore, this agriculture was highly productive and stable, with little negative impact on the environment, because indigenous farmers had access to fertile soils and because they didn’t use plows.
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