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Thomas Jefferson Contributed to Developing Organic Farming and Gardening

Updated: Feb 12

Aerial View of Monticello with Gardens: Photo Source: DAACS Organization

Thomas Jefferson at his home called Monticello in Virginia had two acres of land with vegetable and herb gardens. He and his staff grew 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs. Below these gardens he had 8 acres of orchards and vineyards that grew fruit trees and berries.

Thomas Jefferson collected the crops and trees he grew from 1771-1826 from his travels in Africa, Mexico, and Europe. He love culinary plants and tried to grow many different types of vegetables, herbs, and fruit. He founded the nation's first seed bank.

Thomas Jefferson Photo Source: Laventana Ciudadana

Jefferson owned slaves and they helped him maintain his gardens and orchards. They build stone walls, hauled fertilizer and topsoil, and dug trenches and built fences. Jefferson planted and maintained many of the crops himself. Some plants he raised from seed and ordered seeds from around the world.

His staff or workers were trained by gardeners and experts in raising fruit trees and berries. The slaves were allowed to grow their own vegetable gardens and sell the extra to the main house. This helped African Americans develop useful skills, develop independence, and learn about bartering.

Wormley Hughes Thomas Jefferson's head gardener was a black man that collected seeds, planted crops, and oversaw others that raised vegetable gardens. Some Southerns said that the black families had a better diet than the white southerners because they raised vegetables gardens and fished in local streams and lakes.

Thomas Jefferson kept detailed garden journals about the vegetables, herbs, fruits, and berries he grew. He experimented and tried different techniques to grow the crops. When he died, his family was forced to sell the property in 1826 due to his debts. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased 650 of its 5,000 acres of the property. At that time the house and gardens were in ruins. Due to his journals, they were able to make an organized and accurate historical restoration of Monticello, the vegetable gardens, orchards, and vineyards.

Vegetable Gardens at Monticello Photo Source: Flicker/Mr. Tim MD

Historical Renovation of Monticello Gardens

When Peter Hatch arrived in 1977, he oversaw a historical renovation of the gardens, and he worked on this project for over 35 years. He wanted to restore the gardens with historical accuracy. Jefferson's journals and notes helped him in the process. He was able to establish a seed bank for American farmers as one of the projects he worked on.

Hatch studied Thomas Jefferson's drawing, garden journals, and landscape rendering to work on the restoration project. Thomas Jefferson was a plantation and slave owner and Peter Hatch wanted to research that aspect as part of the restoration. He has written a few books on the restoration of the vegetable gardens and orchards at Monticello.

Garden at Monticello: Photo Source: Flicker/ ICM1863

He became a detective tracking down the seeds and plants that Thomas Jefferson grew in the late 1700s and early 1800s. He visited historical gardens, searched through catalogs, and spoke with plant experts. He later sold seedling, grafted stock, and organizing educational courses at Monticello. When Peter Hatch retired, they hired Keith Nevison to take his place.

Peter Hatch showed that without the help of his enslaved staff Thomas Jefferson would not have been able to grow and maintain the vegetable gardens and orchards that were on his property during his lifetime. In 1986 the project was called Thomas Jefferson's Center for Historic Plants. His work showed the dedication Jefferson had to vegetable gardening and growing fruits.

Restoring the Monticello Farms

Pastures at Monticello Photo Source: DAACS Organization

Keith Nevison, manager of farm and nursery operations focused on restoring the farms at Monticello. He consulted with agricultural institutions, research organizations, and small-scale farming organizations. With his research he learned about experimental bee hives and pollinators for the gardens. He consulted with organizations that saved endangered farm animals and taught about regenerative, and organic farming practices.

His program will help farmers learn about sustainable agricultural practices, maintain a seed bank for crops, offer environmental certifications, and provide grants for start-up farms. He wants to have a community kitchen for processing heathy products, have onsite dinners with regionals chefs, and connect local farmers with restaurants and grocery stores.

These two men have contributed to promoting organic and regenerative farming and gardening by restoring Monticello gardens, orchards. and the farm to their historical accuracy and that is an amazing feat. Thomas Jefferson, Peter Hatch, and Kevin Nevison are leaders in organic and regenerative farming and gardening.

Quarter Map of Farm Location at Monticello Photo Source: En Wikipedia


At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Garden Is Still Growing, by Eric J. Wallace, April 2020, Gastro Obsura- Atlas Obscura

Gardening Wisdom From Thomas Jefferson by Tricia Drevets, Off the Grid News 2024

The Jefferson Monticello Jefferson and Gardening Website 2024

Thomas Jeffersons Vegetable Garden A Thing of Beauty and Science by Graham Smith, The Salt and all Things Considered, 2012 NPR

The Jefferson Monticello Website Article Thomas Jefferson's Legacy In Gardening and Food

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