Happy President's Day!
Did you know George Washington was an innovative and avid farmer? As Arcadia used to be part of ol' Georgie's estate, I decided, in honor of President's Day, to dig a little deeper in to the agricultural past of the space. Located just up the street from Arcadia, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens is a living history destination-- hosting over 1 million visitors every year! The original Estate house still stands, there is an exquisite museum (worth the trip alone), and reconstructed out-buildings including the blacksmith, the storehouse, and slave quarters. There are also GARDENS! And LOTS of them! Many of which produce food!
I have had the privilege of spending time at the Mount Vernon Farms over the last few weeks and am amazed by the amount of agricultural research and trials being done by our founding fathers! (not to mention the AMAZING work done by the reconstruction staff and the farm team at Mount Vernon!) I was especially impressed with the Pioneer Farm, a fully functioning farm located right on the Potomac. This demonstration farms recreates the methods followed during the period of Washington's life.
Washington chose to aband tobacco farming around 1765, ending his economic dependence on English agents to sell his tobacco and giving Mount Vernon greater autonomy and self-sufficiency. His main crop became wheat, but he experimented with over 60 field crops. Fish from the Potomac was also an important source of food and cash. Washington overcame the poor soil at Mount Vernon by starting an innovative plan of crop rotation (switching crop type every year) and mulching, which made his farmland able to sustain its yields. He also introduced the mule to America in a successful effort to find an animal better suited to farm work than the horse.
While we celebrate the agricultural accomplishments of our first President, let's also be sure to remember that much of his farm labor came in the form of slaves and bondage. The people who worked the land, knew the soil and fed the people should always be at the forefront of agricultural history in the US. To learn more about some of the laborers at Mount Vernon, check out Mary Thompsons's report.