Washington, Adams, Jefferson – comfortable with either a hoe or pen in their hands or seeds or parchment paper in their pockets, possessed an enthusiastic appreciation for the land and growing food. After serving their terms as presidents they were relieved to return to their farms. Jefferson might have spoken for them all: “I am entirely a farmer, soul and body.”
For John Adams, the balance of nature served as a model for checks and balances among executive, legislative and judiciary branches.
When we think of our Founding Fathers most of us probably think of their fighting bravery, their oratory penmanship and their political leadership that helped set this country on its course to prosperity. They also shared a common thread with nearly every other man of their time. They were family men. They were builders. They were farmers. They were experimenters and inventors. They faced their problems by trying to find their own solutions. Perhaps it was this toughness in facing problems head-on and finding solutions – which also gave them lots of experience and wisdom – that allowed them to have the confidence to strike a different and BOLD direction for a new country.
George Washington was not only a Founding Father of this great nation, he was the father of—or at least a leading proponent of—management-intensive, grass-based agriculture! ……let’s hear a drum roll for all grass farmers!
Our Founding Fathers
The following is reprinted with permission from The Stockman GrassFarmer. It is bit more technical, but there is a good chance you will find this information interesting.
“At age 22, George Washington rented 2000 acres of Mount Vernon from the widow of his half-brother and became a tobacco planter. However, he rather quickly became disillusioned with the soil destroying nature of tobacco, its very high labor needs and its dependence upon British tobacco factories for a market.
"By the mid 1700s eastern Virginia was being depopulated as planters moved west in search of “new ground” and its attendant reserve of soil nitrogen. Rather than move west, Washington bought out his departing neighbors and grew Mount Vernon to 8000 acres. This was not as smart is it sounds as Washington would later admit.
"The many years of tobacco agriculture had largely destroyed the farm’s soil structure. The farm originally featured an impervious acid layer of clay covered with a few inches of topsoil. However, by the time Washington got the farm most of the topsoil had washed into the river leaving nothing but acid clay behind.
"He believed that a truly sustainable agriculture had to have pasture at its heart. He felt more animals would produce more manure that could grow higher yields from fewer acres. To that end, Washington began to experiment with various cool-season grass seeds from Pennsylvania and with homemade fertilizers made from Potomac river mud, manure, marl and plaster of Paris. These alkaline fertilizers neutralized the acid soils and allowed white clover to grow and rebuild exhausted soil nitrogen.
"Eventually wheat became the main crop at Mount Vernon. Washington liked that wheat no only provided a cash crop but provided winter pasturage and straw which could capture stabled animals’ valuable urine. Washington was an early advocate of composting manure rather than applying it raw (something that Pasture’s Delights has plans of doing). He had a roofed composting shed in which chickens roosted and added their manure to the compost below. (The insects in this compost pile are a great, sustainable feed source for egg layers – a model Pasture’s Delights is considering.)
"Nitrogen also came from fish heads, guts and tails of his sizable river fishery. These were composted with barn and stable straw bedding. (Pasture’s Delights uses liquefied fish as a fertilizer supplying nitrogen and many other bioavailable nutrients.)
"His initial rotation of corn, one year of wheat and one year of pasture. However he found that this short amount of time in pasture was not enough to replenish the soil organic matter. In fact it was as soil destroying as tobacco.
"Eventually, his period in pasture lengthened to four years with one year in corn, one year in wheat and one year in buckwheat. This last crop of buckwheat was plowed under as “green manure”. (Buckwheat also suppresses weeds, attracts beneficial insects, and takes up phosphorus and returns it to soil that is in a more usable form for other plants. Pasture’s Delights is looking to a rotation of two years of alfalfa/grass hay, being grazed for two more years, then planted to corn year 5, followed by oats as a “nurse” crop for a new stand of hay or pasture.)
"To better utilize the nitrogen release of the first year out of pasture, potatoes were interplanted with the corn. Later carrots, turnips and peas were added as well. Keep in mind corn and wheat were grown on a very wide variety of plant spacings in the 18th century to prevent rust and disease.
"Each of Washington’s four farms was subsequently divided into seven permanent paddocks. These were further subdivided using temporary fences of woven branches. Sheep were kept at night at very high stock densities in these temporary paddocks to concentrate their manure and urine. The grass and clover paddocks were also used for fattening cattle and lambs in the late spring and early summer and for hay.
"Half of Mount Vernon’s acreage was kept in forest. These acres provided fuel wood, lumber, game meat and mast for Washington’s large herd of free-ranging hogs. Trimmed hedgerows kept the woods’ pigs out of the fields and gardens. Washington was very cognizant that what would ultimately attract the best and brightest to management intensive farming was the beautiful landscape it could create when done well. (This too is what attracts us to Pasture’s Delights’ vision of animals grazing on a pastoral landscape.)
"Keep in mind that all of this land rotation was devised by Washington through trial and error and what he could decipher from British books and correspondence. A lot of his experiments didn’t work and he developed a reputation locally as being something of a “lunatic farmer.”
Sound familiar? Even if you conquer the greatest empire on earth and serve two terms as President you are a lunatic if try anything different in farming!
THE GREATEST STORY NEVER TOLD
If you visit Mount Vernon today Washington’s primary role as “grass farmer” has to be pieced from the signs and the guide books as you won’t see it illustrated or celebrated there. The few animals are penned into small continuously grazed paddocks and survive on their daily ration of hay. The woods are pig-less and the “recreated” riverside wheat farm has no animals at all. Just a small display of 18th century temporary fencing.
"Downstate at Monticello, it’s even worse. You would never know that Thomas Jefferson was also an advocate of grassland farming and Washington’s land rotation.” – Allan Nation, editor of Stockman GrassFarmer
Now if only Washington and Jefferson knew the price of land today, and more importantly knew how the our government is interfering with one of mankind’s most basic right: to choose what we eat, and how much!
Character is Destiny
Who knew that a couple Virginia farm boys would years later possess the blessings of character, fortitude, and wisdom to shape this land to become America the Beautiful. Today most of us realize our country is ailing from all kinds of things. She needs our nurturing and tenacious perseverance and love. Just like showing your spouse or significant other attention just on your anniversary, showing Patriotic pride just on the 4th of July isn’t going to cut it. Also, while the loving is easy when things are going good, it’s when things turn “south’ when the love, or patriotism, is really needed.
Hearing about the problems of the economy, the national debt, the encroaching police state eroding our freedom and liberties - when you hear about these and other problems that plague us it is easy to get discouraged and possibly give up hope in even trying. We can either choose to accept this path or we can choose, just as the Founding Fathers did, to love our fellow Americans and create the path we want our country to be on - not just on Independence Day, but every single day the sun passes over this land.
Yes, the challenges may seem overwhelming. However the biggest challenges may lie within yourself – observing yourself, knowing yourself and then changing yourself – to have the character to believe, love and do ALWAYS what is what is right. Our Founding Fathers GOT this. If a rag-tag group of farmer militiamen can succeed against the well-organized British army, we too, with tenacious patriotic character can succeed in keeping the American dream alive for you and I and for our children. If we want a country we can be proud of then we have to love our country. Love is action. If we love God, if we love our neighbor, and if we love this land that nourishes our bodies and minds, then let’s do it! That’s true love.
Cheers to unleashing the “farmer” in you!
Farmer Mark Grieshop