The First Thanksgiving: Plymouth ROCKED in Water Responsibility!

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – November 25, 2015 – Comment

A harrowing trip across the ocean, setting up a new life in a strange land – the Pilgrims we remember every Thanksgiving had plenty to worry about just in terms of survival. Surely, helping the water conservation movement that would arise centuries later wasn’t one of them. Or was it?

From Mayflower survival to practices in the New World, history indicates the Pilgrims and their Native American companions DID, indeed, plant the seeds of water awareness and preservation lessons that remain pertinent for us today. These lessons even go so far as to provide solutions to help decrease the water footprint of the Thanksgiving feast that we explored last year. Here’s a few interesting facts to prove my point.

Savvy on the Mayflower. Before setting sail, Pilgrims recognized water would be scarce on the ship and planned intelligently, stocking up on foods requiring little water for preparation and consumption, such as dried meats, salted pork and a variety of pickled foods. Moreover, beer became the primary beverage on the Mayflower – for adults and children. Far from raising a mug for a good time, the travelers knew that the water they had access to would likely be contaminated; by drinking beer made with water treated during the brewing process, they avoided illnesses.

Go-Go Organic! For sure participants at the first Thanksgiving didn’t have access to “modern” farming amenities. However, whether they knew it or not, their organic farming methods were water- and environmentally-friendly. According to recent studies on the advantages of organic farming, the diversity of crops grown by Native Americans and Pilgrims enhanced soil structure and improved water filtration.

Also, the use of natural compost in 17th-century farming gave a boost to water preservation. Compost most likely would have increased the land’s ability to retain water – in modern times, it’s estimated that natural composting vs. using chemical fertilizers can save anywhere from 14,000 to 100,000 gallons of water per acre per year.

For all our modern advancements, it sure seems like the Pilgrims had a lot of things right. Of course they lacked the convenience of things like convection ovens and garbage disposals (and the vast infrastructure systems supporting those devices), but they also did not need to worry about repercussions of doing things like pouring grease down the drain (see infographic).

We could also talk about Pilgrims being ahead of their time on the “buy and eat locally” front; but that’s another topic for another Thanksgiving! For now, let’s give thanks for the lessons on environmental responsibility passed down from the early settlers, and for the practices they established that contributed to the wealth of resources available for generations to follow.