Presidents in Agriculture

Agriculture is more than just a practice – it’s a tradition.

Agriculture is the engine that powered America’s past and will continue to propel us out of today’s troubles and into a prosperous tomorrow.

From the nation’s earliest days, farming has held a crucial place in the American economy and culture.  Farmers play an important role in any society, of course, but farming has been particularly valued in the United States.  Farmers were and still are seen as exemplifying economic virtues such as hard work, initiative and self-sufficiency.

These characteristics coincidentally also describe our country’s Founding Fathers.  Gardening or faming, was central to their lives, and they were truly the first environmentalists.  They believed independent small-scale farms were the “building blocks” of the nation.

George Washington was always an agricultural pioneer, constantly experimenting with new crops and sophisticated techniques while working to improve his farms.  His post-Revolutionary War rehabilitation of Mount Vernon progressed from simply improving the physicality’s of his plantation to actually reconsidering an entirely new mode of farming.  The estate totaled 8,000 acres and was divided into five farms, each an individual unit.  Small areas were generally cultivated, but were usually restricted to testing new crops and agricultural methods; otherwise most of the individual farms were the focus of intensive agricultural activity.  For a brief time Washington raised tobacco, but soon after, found out it was far too disadvantageous.  He then transitioned to growing wheat, producing grains and food crops.  This shift to farming allowed him to introduce more innovative practices such as crop rotation and intensive plowing.

Thomas Jefferson righteously represented the virtues of a true agrarian life.  As a talented landscape architect and avid gardener, he referred to himself as a farmer by profession, who all the while, searched for more progressive ways to work his plantations.  All “illustrious epicure,” Jefferson grew a vast diversity of gardens, all within his Monticello Garden.  Monticello served as a laboratory for rare plants and vegetables – and lead to new culinary traditions and organic farming methods, too.

Like most Americans of his time, John Adams began life with the heart of a farmer rather than a gardener, but in the course of traveling, he developed an appreciation of ornamental gardens that inspired efforts to imitate many of their features at his own home.  Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts is home to Peacefield – the 40-acre home and farm of president John Adams full of orchard and farmland.  As a farmer, Adams was naturally interested in increasing the fertility of his land via the use of compost.

Today, in light of increasing concern about the environment, a new look at the Founding Fathers can bring light to a future path.  The Founding Fathers’ vision of America, and of farming, was inseparable.  They loved farming and gardening, and planned for an America of farmers.

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