I went to Monticello with a couple of friends a couple of weeks ago; I’m a new transplant to the region and my friends were just passing through, so it was a first time for all of us. First of all, I’ll say that I’m pleased to find myself in a part of the country with as rich and long a cultural history as New England (where I moved from) and many sites of historic significance that have been preserved or restored in period splendor. Monticello is especially interesting to me, being the home of Thomas Jefferson who was a very dedicated and forward-thinking farmer and gardener. I didn’t even take a tour of the house proper, I was so fascinated and overwhelmed with the beauty and diversity of the kitchen garden and orchards.
The kitchen garden is on a long, flat terrace just above a sloping hill that contains countless (well, I didn’t count them, anyway) varieties of tree fruit, especially peaches. It must be about the most stunning vegetable garden in the country, looking out onto the endless horizon of the Virginia plains far below. Imagine kneeling, weeding a bed of lettuce, seeing that view every time you take your eyes out of the dirt! And the scope and variety of vegetables and herbs grown is stunning also, all or mostly heirloom varieties going back to the time of Jefferson (for whom many of these varieties were new and experimental, at least to the region).
Anyway, it just got me thinking about the rich and complex history of agriculture in the area and how exciting it is to be part of a new farm and the growing community of folks and businesses interested in local and sustainable food in this area. Everywhere I look I see evidence of farms, restaurants, schools, clubs, non-profit groups and many other kinds of organizations jumping in in one way or another, and it feels great and hopeful.
At the Monticello gift shop (really quite cool; check it out if you’re there) I bought a recently-published book called Founding Gardeners that is a scholarly but very enjoyable look at the gardening and agricultural activities and passions of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison and how those interests shaped their political philosophies and even the direction of the new nation. It makes quite relevant reading for our country’s (and the world’s) situation right now, I believe, as food and agricultural use and policy lie right at the crux of many of the most important issues facing us, such as energy, climate, health, development and land conservation. And jobs too, I hope: though some folks don’t believe me, this is a great job, rewarding, creative and meaningful, challenging. It won’t make you a million dollars, but there are definitely opportunities out there and it is one of a few growing sectors in the present job market.
Anyway, off of my hobby horse…give a thoughtful visit to Monticello if you haven’t yet and while you’re in the neighborhood, stop by Bellair Farm as well! We’d love to see you.