Thomas Jefferson’s Passion For Vegetables May Surprise You!

Thomas Jefferson was one of the founding fathers of the United States.  He was the 3rd President, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, a supporter of religious freedom and an inventor, among other things.  But why am I writing about him on a health and wellness blog? Well, this true Renaissance man, (and hero of mine, as I am a proud graduate of the University of Virginia, founded by Jefferson) was also a dedicated vegetable farmer, and he cultivated a wide range of plants numbering in excess of 300 different varieties.

When I recently learned what a strong vegetable advocate he was, througha story on NPR’s All Things Considered, it pretty much blew my mind.  How could this information have escaped me for so long? I knew Jefferson was passionate about the land and particularly the Monticello property, but I didn’t know of his affinity for the Veggie!


Jefferson even said in a letter: “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principle diet”. While not a strict vegetarian, Jefferson embraced this food philosophy even before the term “vegetarian” was coined.  He was the closest thing to a vegetarian president the U.S. has seen, aside from former President Clinton’s recent foray into plant-based eating.


According to Peter Hatch, head gardener at Monticello, Jefferson loved peas and lettuce above all.  And he was not only invested in his own garden, but perpetuated the growth of different varietals throughout the region by collecting seeds from around the world and sharing them with his neighbors and friends.   Currently the garden at Monticello has been restored to closely represent Jefferson’s own design and his dedication to heirloom vegetables.


When you think about it, today’s movement toward local foods and the ‘farm-to-table’ trend is perhaps another notch for Jefferson’s belt.  Or maybe I give him too much credit, but hey you can’t blame a UVA girl for trying!


When I think back to my days in beautiful Charlottesville, VA, I recall escaping from campus grounds to study for exams in a secret spot up on Carter Mountain – the apple orchard adjacent to Jefferson’s Monticello property.   I remember strong sunshine and long grass.  I remember the rich history of the area and I felt a strong connection to the land and the gifts that came from it.  When connecting the dots between these memories, it is actually not surprising to think that 200 years earlier Jefferson himself not only had these feelings, but true to form, he cultivated them into a serious pursuit that we are still learning from today.