By Betty Jo Pritchett
April 13th marks the day of Thomas Jefferson’s birth. Mr. Jefferson was, as most people know, the United States’ 1st Secretary of State, 2nd Vice President, and 3rd President. In addition to that he was one of the Founding Fathers and a revolutionary. He was, by most people’s standards, a great American. Though not necessarily known as an ‘environmentalist’ (was there such a thing at that time?), Mr. Jefferson added to the United State’s natural beauty through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. He also sponsored the Lewis and Clark Expedition that explored that territory.
Thomas Jefferson was an avid supporter of small farmers and took a special interest in his gardens. At Monticello, Mr. Jefferson tried his hand at tobacco, wheat, various vegetables, flax, corn, hogs, sheep, poultry and cattle. Mr. Jefferson believed that a man could reach his full potential through working the land and envisioned America as a nation of small farmers. He was also a proponent of leaving some of the land wild, saying ‘I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe’.
Reading this makes me wonder what Mr. Jefferson would think of America as we are now? What would he think of our large factory farms? What would he think of the fact that just 10 companies control 90% of the poultry production in the U.S.? That just 125,000 farms in the U.S. produced 75% of all agriculture production? That only 2% of our population claimed farming as their occupation in 2007? In 1870, almost 80% of the U.S. population was employed in agriculture. It seems that in this at least, Thomas Jefferson’s hope for the United States of America that he helped create is entirely different than the reality.
“I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest a continued one through the year.” –Thomas Jefferson.