A kind of artist
“We have neglected the truth that a good farmer is a craftsman of the highest order, a kind of artist.” — Wendell Berry
History tells us much about the wide-ranging though conflicted brilliance of Thomas Jefferson. Aside from his celebrated love of books, farming may have been his greatest passion. He and his trusted gardener Wormley Hughes left a legacy of agricultural artistry at Monticello that still can be seen and felt today.
The five thousand acres of Monticello were home to an entire community of free and enslaved workers, and his gardens were “a kind of laboratory where Jefferson experimented with 330 varieties of more than seventy species of vegetables from around the world.” Jefferson’s analytical skills and compulsive record-keeping documented years of success, failure and persistence that yielded food for the tables at Monticello and inspiration for generations of family farms and gardens.
Perhaps the unusually long life span of Jefferson and many of his enslaved collaborators are a testament to the benefits of a locally grown plant-based diet. Most of the individuals we think of as “founding fathers” were also farmers, and probably we have as much to learn from their agrarian achievements as we have from their political deeds.
Whether or not you have space for a home vegetable garden, I encourage you to learn more about locally grown food. The widespread rediscovery of family farms and gardens may ameliorate much of the emotional, environmental and physical damage done by our over-processed, mass-produced food supply that has largely separated us from the contact with nature that is healing on many different levels .
I’ve seen (and tasted) the benefits of home gardening, and I’m convinced Berry is right about the importance of small local farms to the overall good of society. Like so many other urban and suburban people who get their fruits and veggies from the supermarket, I have a long way to go in putting this philosophy into practice, but I hope you will join me in moving in that direction. Maybe we can start by planning a visit to an orchard or garden where we can pick our own food and experience firsthand the connection between its source and our table.
Do you grow anything edible? If so, do you agree that there are benefits that go beyond the superior taste of home-grown food? Feel free to inspire us with your experiences and advice!
One year ago today: