One of the things I love most about living in Virginia is the ability to explore our country’s rich history without ever leaving the state. Many historical figures have proudly called Virginia home through the years, including the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who not only was born here (in Shadwell, VA) on April 13, 1743, but retired to his Virginia plantation, Monticello, where he died on July 4, 1826.
During my recent spring break, I decided to play the tourist and visit Monticello, a wonder in architecture, science and history. During one of the many tours offered, I learned about Jefferson’s legacy in gardening and food.
A Real Foodie
Most of us know about Jefferson’s extensive political accomplishments, but did you know that Jefferson’s interest in gardening and food had a lasting impact on the history of American food?
Jefferson liked to eat vegetables, and although not a vegetarian as we define it today, he ate very little meat. His meals included fresh produce, whether served at the White House or on his plantation and he grew many different varieties for his own use. According to Peter Hatch, former Director of Monticello’s Gardens and Grounds, his garden “served as a sort of this experimental testing lab where he’d try new vegetables he sought out from around the globe.”
Here are a few facts to make you appreciate his legacy even more:
- During Jefferson’s life, the Monticello garden was revolutionary, growing 330 varieties of eighty-nine species of vegetables and herbs and 170 varieties of the finest fruit varieties known at the time.
- In the spring of 2009, inspired by the Monticello garden, The White House kitchen garden was planted with seeds and plants from some of Jefferson’s favorite vegetables.
- Monticello still acts as a seed bank to perpetuate rare lines and varieties of vegetables like Prickly-seeded Spinach and Dutch Brown lettuce.
To celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s 273rd birthday, start thinking beyond his illustrious political career. Give him props for the impact he made as a gardener, a farmer and as one of our country’s first real foodies.
Want to learn even more about Thomas Jefferson?
You can read all about Thomas Jefferson in a previous issue of Cobblestone, our children’s magazine for kids ages 9-14, focused on bringing history to life and enjoy this play “A Magical Pen” featuring Thomas Jefferson and his grandchildren: