by Joe Wallace
On Tuesday July 10th the Food For Thought Book Club gathered at the Doylestown Bookshop to discuss "Founding Gardeners" by Andrea Wulf.
When thinking of the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution, thoughts of agriculture and independence through food production are not usually the first thoughts that come to mind. However as this book explains- Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and other revolutionaries were terrific gardeners who viewed agriculture and botany in the highest light.
This is emphasized Benjamin Franklin who in 1769 detailed three ways by which a nation might acquire wealth:
- "The first is by WAR ... This is Robbery
- The Second by COMMERCE which is generally Cheating
- "The third by AGRICULTURE the only honest way." (Wulf, p. 5).
The book takes readers on a journey through American history, where the rise of agriculture mirrors the rise of a nation. It follows George Washington's love of botany, Jefferson's hunt for useful plants, the planning of our Capital, and the formation of modern political parties that have their roots in agriculture and commerce.
Our group was generally awed by the gardening prowess of the Founding Fathers. Many were enthralled with varied aspects of the natural world. They engaged in sharing plants, crops, and trees- and shipped them across the country and sometimes across oceans to experiment with new species. Washington's home in Mount Vernon, Jefferson's at Monticello, and Madison's at Montpelier all thrived with varied trees, bushes, crops, and flowers gathered from across the young nation.
This discussion naturally led to the topic of slavery, a constant contradiction facing the United States and its founders. Without slavery and its injustices, would the Founding Fathers have had such grand gardens? The group concluded that the Founding Father's and their contradictions represent and reflect the contradictions of our country. We concluded that the Founding Fathers were not above contradictions. While worthy of great praise, the issues of slavery highlight certain flaws in their nature.
Our discussion led to our modern value of farmers. Do we as a society value farmers? Did we value them any more or less in 1790 than today? Are responses varied but always came back to the importance of local agriculture. As we come to July 4th and anniversary of the founding of the United States, it is fitting that we think about the importance of agriculture as it was in 1776, and how it shapes our lives today.
In all it was a wonderful discussion that was punctuated by delicious snacks brought by several members! Join the Book Club in July as we discuss Seedfolks!