Plants that Enliven Human Experience

Welcome to the second topical discussion assignment of the course. For this and future discussions, you are encouraged to respond multiple times throughout the week—indeed, you are required to do so if you wish to earn maximum points. Your contributions are due Sunday night, but bonus points are available for contributing early, and the discussion will remain open to further comments through the end of the course. This assignment is worth 15 possible points. After the discussion closes, your contributions will be scored according to the following rubric:

up to 3 points for posting early to this discussion (3 for posting at least once by Thursday night, 2 for posting first on Friday, 1 for otherwise posting before the Sunday night deadline)
up to 3 points for providing all of the information about a specific crop as requested below in step two
up to 6 points for the overall quality of your discussion of a crop and its geography and uses
up to 3 points for directly responding to classmates during the discussion, based on the frequency, timeliness, and overall quality of your responses
Geographical Origins, Diffusion, and Uses of Agricultural Crops

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One of the remarkable big stories associated with humankind is our development of and dependence on a multitude of domesticated species of plants, animals, and microorganisms. To the first nature of wildlife, we have added a second nature of crops and livestock and microbial cultures. Something as simple as a breakfast meal featuring yogurt and fruit illustrates this: a domesticated culture of the bacterium Lactobacillus acidophilus is used to ferment milk from a domesticated breed of dairy cow (Bos taurus), who likely was fed a domesticated grass such as American corn/maize (Zea mays); then a domesticated plant such as the strawberry (Fragaria × ananassa)—and maybe a little cane sugar, too (Saccharum officinarum)—was added to sweeten things up a bit. We largely take for granted this second nature of domesticated species, as we do their global diffusion and integration into human ways of life all over the planet.

This discussion assignment is a group project of sorts, inviting you to investigate and share with the class some basic information on the plants that enliven the human experience. There are three relatively straightforward steps:

1. Choose a domesticated plant. Avoid writing about any plant/crop your classmates already have discussed. The domesticated plant you choose could be any commercially grown food crop—there are thousands from which to choose—although there also are many non-food plants, such as cotton and indigo and tobacco, that would be find to discuss. And if you rather would write about a domesticated animal or microorganism, that would be fine, too, although the sources provided below are geared more toward plants.

2. Research your plant, focused on the following basic questions:

Where in the world did it originate? Where was it domesticated? What are its wild ancestors?
Where is the crop commercially produced today?
How is the crop used today? In answering this last question, does the crop play an especially significant role in a particular consumer product—such as indigo’s iconic use as the color of blue jeans—or in a particular dish or cuisine associated with a specific country, region, or culture group? For example, Risotto alla milanese—the classic rice dish of Milan—depends upon saffron as much as the rice itself.

3. Share what you have learned, including any questions or mysteries that came up, in an original discussion post of two or three paragraphs. As with all of our discussions, an initial post of roughly 250 words is a good starting point, to which you can add in follow-up posts.

I have given you specific questions to investigate, but this is a flexible and open assignment. You are welcome to use any sources you find worthwhile, but cite the sources that you use, providing links when available so your classmates can check out the same sources if they are interested. In addition to Wikipedia
, which is a good general reference for an assignment such as this, the websites below will help you get started:

on crop origins: interactive website from the CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture)
downloadable CIAT world map of crop origins
international data on commercial crop production: FAOSTAT crop data
two searchable sources on food culture, searchable by crop/ingredient: Saveur magazine
and Slow Food’s Ark of Taste

And if you find another good general source for this assignment, please share. Likewise if you find a good recipe or two. This assignment is meant to be as fun as it is informative. Buon appetito! For more information on Plants that Enliven Human Experience visit this:

Plants that Enliven Human Experience

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