Jefferson is the founding father who has influenced me more than any other figure in American history. He inspires me for one big reason: Because he dreamed of the same future I dream of today: a nation given its essential character and its deepest principles by the values of farmers.
As we all know, he collected hundreds of fruits and vegetables. Just reading the names of their varieties is exhilarating. He loved variety, but he wasn’t collecting just to build a collection. He was a ruthless, methodical experimenter. He always kept track of things. Wherever he was, he observed. He paid attention. He recorded things. And he enjoyed it all.
Jefferson imagined a different future, a nation of small farmers growing delicious food. And as he wrote in a famous letter to the first Supreme Court Justice, John Jay: “cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.”
I share Jefferson’s belief in an agrarian ideal of a farmer because I know young men and women farming today who are upholding that ideal. And I have enormous hope that there will be more and more of them with every passing year … The values of Jefferson’s farmer-citizen are the values of civic virtue: devotion to the land and to justice and social harmony; honesty, self-reliance, patriotism, and cooperation; and belief in science and public education. Citizenship still requires empathy, and gratitude, and mutual respect, just as it did in Jefferson’s time, and it requires a set of human values that will allow us to live together. And one of those is a love for nature. Love of nature, in all its miraculous variety, is what can spark our imagination and make us see that we are all in this together. With a diversity of people—and not just beans! — and with an abundance of affection, we can move together toward a healthy, sustainable, and egalitarian future.
This is the second American Revolution that we need. Rather than a call to arms, this is a call to farms!
— Excerpt from Alice Water’s keynote address for the Founder’s Day Celebration at Monticello, April 13, 2017