Why did humans start farming?

I heard that initially hunting and gathering expended less energy, which makes me wonder why people would pick up farming if the alternative was less energy consuming?

  1. You can get far more crops and food by farming than by gathering/scavenging/hunting.

  2. It gives a certain schedule and reliability to your food supply - you plant seeds, you reap harvests, you know how to schedule your eating around. Whereas with scavenging or hunting, there is no guarantee of a reliable food supply, or even food at all.

  3. Your wheat field, pigs, chickens and other stuff is right outside your door (if you’re a farmer.) A hunter or gatherer might have to go long distances.

To elaborate further on 1#, when a population gets to a certain size, farming is the only practical way to generate a food supply to feed all those mouths.

Take the USA’s population (roughly 300 million) or China’s (1.3 billion,) for instance. There is no way that 300 million Americans or 1.3 billion Chinese people could feed themselves by scavenging or hunting. Not enough wild deer, wild strawberries, crayfish in the creek to go around.

Finally, farming allows you to get better-tasting food with more variety. You can’t get chicken fettuccini by finding a few stalks of grain that grow in the wild for the pasta, or cows that roam about in the wilderness for milk, or wild chickens for the chicken meat. What about the wild garlic, the thyme, the oregano? A hunting/scavenging lifestyle means that most fancy or even moderately-complex food recipes are impossible. Where do you get your soy sauce, vinegar, butter, spinach, avocadoes?

If you are only hunting and scavenging, you would never taste food from other countries. No coconuts from Pacific islands, no mangoes from Vietnam, no oranges from Central America, no avocadoes from Argentina, etc.
Society’s diet on a purely hunting/scavenging basis would be pretty awful.

Those last few sound more like luxuries than actual reasons.

What about all these downsides though?

Some people started farming. This allowed them to grow in numbers and dominate their habitat in such a way any remaining hunter/gatherers where overwhelmed. It also allows you to exploit areas that don’t provide enough resources to be a long term place of hunter/gatherers.

Any of the drawbacks are swamped by the benefit of growing and expanding, and returning to hunting and gathering requires a very different set of knowledge and skills to allow you to survive.

Because the night is dark and full of terrors, and winter is coming.

No, really. Hunting and gathering is fine in the spring, summer, autumn. Then comes winter, and unless you’re a bear who can sleep it off, you need to have prepared for it extensively. You need heat (so, lotsa wood that you don’t have to go gather in the freezing cold), and you need food because everything around you is dead and most of the animals are gone south, sleeping in caves or buried under the snow. And if you go looking for them you’ll catch your death - quite literally. Also, because the days are shorter in winter, you can’t hunt long distances any more as you have to find shelter or go back to the village sooner ; and you might also get stuck by the weather.
So you need a spring/summer/autumn activity that generates a surplus of food ; and food that keeps (which fresh fruit & berries isn’t). Farming grain is the perfect answer to that problem.

Farming lead to a grow in population - not the other way around.

It’s also interesting to note that, while winter has long been a source of utter dread for mankind (as evidenced by myths, legends and rituals - we don’t celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, I mean the birth of baby Jesus, for nothing) the most difficult period in purely agrarian societies is… dammit, what’s the English word for soudure, do you even have one ? Anyway, it’s spring/early summer (late Feb to early May), when the reserves from last year start running short but the new harvest’s not in yet.

But in that period, well, you can supplement your diet with gathering and hunting/fishing - and so even though lean years and famines around that time have been a very regular staple throughout recorded history, it hasn’t become a central cultural or religious focus of doom and gloom like winter used to be - to the point that English might not even have a bloody word for it that I can find :).

There are several reasons, one of them was constant hunger and chasing your next meal.
Also, if you liked a place, you had to move on again to find food again.

Once they figured out that you can purposely plant and grow food reliably in one place- it made life that much easier - you could actually own stuff and keep more than you could carry with you on your back, since cars and airplanes was not an option.

After you found a place, where you could grow this magic food out of the ground and had your base established you could gather some wood over the year for the cold times in the winter, which made them cold evenings much more comfortable.

With this more reliable form of food supply, your children had a better chance of survival.

Finally (and that’s also something that’s evident from early artwork), agriculture brings forth a notion of mastering one’s own life and destiny, of controlling nature rather that being subject to its whims. And, yes, obviously you’re still a part of nature and are subject to its whims since a late frost can ruin your entire year. But that’s something to consider. Consider the art produced by the societies of the Fertile Crescent : their first potteries depict small man figures surrounded by huge beasts, floods etc… but flash forward a few thousand years and instead on pots and seals you’ll see the towering figure of the god-king trampling over snakes and lions (and other men) - a bushel of wheat or sickle in one hand and the Law in the other.
It’s a whole different mental paradigm, that might even have been self-realized/self-aware.

Climate change (in the Levant. And Central Mexico. But probably not elsewhere) That and aready beer supply.

Luxuries is a perfectly valid reason to prefer farming over scavenging.

Also keep in mind - humans didn’t “choose” agriculture. It would have been a gradual evolution… It didn’t take rocket science to figure out the pits and spare grains and such sprouted if they got wet, and turned into new plants.

So then the gradual process - instead of creating a big heap of leftover garbage, spread the seeds and leftover rotten stuff around in the meadow - when we get back here next year, there will be a bumper crop compared to normal. Oops, if you don’t get back in time, the wild pigs and birds eat it all - arrive a little early to tend the crop. I also saw birds eating the seeds - we should bury them; if we’re by here in the spring, we can plant them so they aren’t exposed all winter. Store them in sealed clay jars over winter. Dry this fall? Adding water keeps the crops growing bigger. Wow, we have a lot - too much to carry it all. We can put it in clay pots, but we’ll have to stick around here until it’s all used up. Eventually range becomes less and less and crops become more important until it makes sense to wait out the harvest in one place.

This has the added bonus of allowing permanent structures for shelter which can be built up and defended - important as the tribe down the river also becomes more numerous.

I would also point out - seasonal variations may be significant, but less scary during the evolution of farming, as most of it happened in locales like the middle east, Egypt, and south central China where winter was not the blizzard and frozen pond experience of north Europe.

Once the technique of farming was perfected - the farming peoples had the advantage of a larger food supply nearer at hand, and the technique to use wherever the soil and climate permitted. The same sort of scenario would play out as happened across the world until recently - the agricultural people would move into a new area, and the local people either learn the new technique or slowly lose more of their prime hunting lands to farmers. And if it came to a physical confrontation, they were outnumbered and war was expensive to a small group.

Also, another point I’ve seen is that in fact the agricultural diet was more limited in variety than the hunter-gatherer diet until the rise of larger civilizations and the luxury of extended trade routes. Before that, agriculturalists had all their eggs in one or two baskets, so to speak.

This must be the case. When hunter-gathers suddenly encounter a lack of food it’s too late to start farming.

Some wild crop, maybe grain, must have been a sufficient food source to keep HGs coming back to the same location. There could be many generations of gathering those crops before any deliberate action was taken to increase the yield.

All of those things happened long after farming was begun. None of them was the cause of farming. Others have, I think, answered the OP’s question pretty well.

Wild grain, and gazelles.

The relationship between game and vegetation and farming could be very complex. Certainly for HGs the availability of both edible plants and game would be very attractive and keep people more centered in a particular location for a long time increasing the opportunities to make farming viable.

MD2000’s post at position 13 is the closest to my response to this.

As an Historian, I have become aware (apparently more than most) that most explanations of human behavior come AFTER THE EVENTS THEMSELVES. In fact, the whole notion of coming up with a question like the one posed for this thread, is the result of people getting into the habit of explaining human events as being due to deciding things in advance, when a careful and unprejudiced study of the actual past, reveals that most of what has happened before was not premeditated at all.

I have my own personal theory as to how things came to be as they did, which this subject area hinges off of. My theory is based on noticing that the various “cradles of civilization” that we have come to recognize, the so-called fertile crescent in the ME, the Nile basin, the valleys of China and so on, all had the same basic set of things in common: great fertility, concentrated in a location surrounded by a wide expanse of barren territory. To my thinking, civilization was an accident, caused by humans stumbling into a hospitable environment, and being unable to easily migrate out of it again. Discovering animal husbandry and agriculture would have followed naturally, unless everyone killed each other off.

And remember too, how damnably long it took for humans to change from hunter-gatherer to “civilized.” Had they been making a reasoned choice, they would have chosen much more quickly.

But most of all, I want to point out that most lists of why “agriculture is cool and hunter-gathering is not” are based on values assigned to each after the shift. After we were already stuck with the latter. This observation is informed as well, by a fairly recent new interpretation of some of the early myths, such as the many “out of Eden” kinds of stories. The idea there, is that transitioning to agriculture was not at all a smooth and peaceful event, and that many hunter-gatherers fought against it. We know that exactly that happened in the United States, during the transition from cattle ranching to a more inclusive economy.

I can see conflicts arriving when those who stayed in one place to farm encountered other HGs returning or happening upon the location for a quick meal and endangering the farmer’s chances of surviving until the next season.

Protection from wolves …