What came first, the cereal or the milk?
Read FIRST FARMERS to find out more about the contributions of Indigenous people to agriculture.
Complete the activities in ORGANIZE INFORMATION TO EXPLORE CONNECTIONS TO AGRICULTURE.
a buffalo landscape
Farming in Alberta has always been influenced by the land and resources. Farming has also had a big impact on Alberta’s land and resources.
Thousands of years ago, much of Alberta was covered by grasses. These grasslands kept the soil fertile by storing nutrients in the soil. Forests covered areas of northern and western Alberta.
Did you know that biologists call much of Alberta a “buffalo landscape?” They call it this because millions of bison once ran through the prairies and grazed on the grasses. The grazing affected the land – it prevented the spread of trees and shrubs.
The Niitsitapi, known as the Blackfoot, grew crops of tobacco long before European people arrived and planted crops or started cattle ranches. First Nations people “farmed” the prairies, collecting plants that were used for food, medicine and ceremonies.
fire and the land
First Nations people, like the Dene and Cree, used fire to clear areas of grassland. Fires were lit in the fall or early winter because it encouraged quicker regrowth of thick grass, berries and other plants in the spring. This thick grass was a source of food for bison and elk and attracted these animals to areas in which First Nations people hunted.
Historians and archaeologists think that fires were lit around major buffalo jumps months in advance so the thick grass that grew in would attract big herds.
These photos show the same area in the past and more recently. They show areas in which controlled fires have been used to encourage plant growth and attract more animals.
Images from Mountain Legacy Project (2016) on Retroactive: Exploring Alberta’s Past. https://albertashistoricplaces.com/2016/03/02/alberta-on-fire-a-history-of-cultural-burning/
farming during the fur trade
There were also early farmers during the fur trade. In the 1820s, wheat was sown around Fort Edmonton. This crop was grown mainly to provide food for people in the fort. However, during this time, bison were over-hunted and herds were wiped out.