A Comparison of Modern and Indigenous Agricultural Systems: Monoculture Versus Polyculture
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Although monoculture cornfield is the standard method of farming for modern agriculture, polyculture was a dominant system for indigenous cultures in the New World. These systems were discussed widely in the personal writings of missionaries and settlers, who marveled at the agricultural productivity of the native people. The Three Sisters method, consisting of a close grouping of corn (Zea mays), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), and squash (Cucurbita sp.), was one of the most common polyculture methods throughout North America. The method is admired, as it produces a complete diet, and the mutualistic relationships between the plants encourage higher yields. The purpose of this experiment was to test for a difference in crop productivity and yield between a corn monoculture and the Three Sisters setup. In this greenhouse study, pots were planted with only corn and were treated at the beginning of the growing season with synthetic fertilizer representing modern monoculture. This treatment was compared with pots planted with corn, pole beans, and butternut squash, a variation of the Three Sisters. To test productivity, the sizes and flowering times of the corn were measured. The yield and weights of all fruits produced by the plants was also collected. The monoculture treatment showed trends of faster development in height and flowering times. However, the Three Sisters method has the possibility to deliver higher combined yields and produce more total food.
Mentor: Dr. Nanci Ross