“In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
You might recall learning this line from a poem when you were trying to memorize the date of Columbus's maiden voyage. You may not remember much about his subsequent adventures though. Columbus returned from trips with vivid descriptions of the land and peoples he encountered. In his letter to Luis de Santangel, one of his financial backers, he wrote of “great mines of gold and other metals” and “very wide and fertile plains” which were “rich for planting and sowing.” With the letter in hand, it is not surprising subsequent voyages were funded. But this time there were some extra passengers on board—miners and farmers, not to mention some sheep, horses, and cows! After all, if it is the job of the explorer to discover new lands, it is the job of the miners and farmers to capture the value the investors are expecting.
Miners and farmers were very different in the way they captured value from the land. Miners extracted what was; farmers planted for what would be. Mining could produce immediate returns, while farming required a bit more patience. Miners' tasks started out with a bang! but became more difficult as they dug deeper to get the next bit of ore. Farmers' jobs were more challenging in the beginning—clearing the land, cultivating the soil, figuring out which crops would grow best. But over ...