The Van Trump Report

Our Founding Farmers

This was passed along to me by good friends at Holganix and I wanted to share it with our readers. I thought it was fitting as many of my conversations over this past Independence Day holiday centered around our founding Fathers and just how far we are now drifting as a nation. I thought it was interesting however to read and remember just how innovative and “open to change” they really were. 

Did you know that many of America’s Founding Fathers were also Founding Farmers? Whether it was George Washington’s work in soil health and composting, Benjamin Franklins’ advocacy of gypsum fertilizer and crop insurance, John Adams’ passion for composting and gardening, or Thomas Jefferson’s plow innovations, the Founding Farmers were passionate about helping American farmers prosper. Below we explore the agricultural contributions by two of America’s best known Founding Farmers: George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

George Washington: The Father of American Soil Health Practices
“I would rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” – George Washington, U.S. President and Founding Father.

Did you know, George Washington wasn’t just the father of the United States, he was also the father of American soil health practices? He devoted his free time to agricultural experiments that focused on enriching the soil of his farm.

An avid farmer, those closest to Washington believed he was happiest when he was working his lands and conducting agricultural experiments. Originally a tobacco farmer, he eventually diversified his crops to include wheat, corn, and legumes.

Washington’s speeches and essays strongly encouraged American farmers to incorporate practices that would enrich their soils, instead of wearing them out. He was a firm believer and experimenter in compost and crop rotation. Washington even went to lengths to explain composting practices and prove how composting could increase a farm’s productivity over time.  

According to the USDA, Washington “encouraged wealthier landowners to experiment with different practices on their land… reasoning that wealthy landowners could absorb the risk that comes with perfecting agricultural methods.”

With time, Washington became an honorary member of the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture (America’s first organization devoted to agricultural improvement) and the English Board of Agriculture (an honor rarely given to foreigners at that time).

Benjamin Franklin: An Agronomist in the Making
“Plow deep while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and keep.” – Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Founding Father

Widely known for his scientific work, literary prowess, and diplomacy, few know that Benjamin Franklin was also an agricultural innovator and advocate.

When Franklin announced his retirement from the printing business in 1748, he purchased a 300-acre farm in New Jersey, managing it like a “miniature experiment station, carrying on projects in drainage, in crop rotation, and especially in the utilization of the newer grasses and liming and fertilization.” While Franklin’s retirement was short lived and he quickly succumbed to requests for his participation in public affairs, he continued to study, educate and encourage agriculture innovations.

Throughout the course of his life, Franklin published a number of books and papers on agriculture and botany, covering topics and practices learned in America and abroad in Europe. He was known for his work in introducing and educating Americans on the use of gypsum as fertilizer (a practice borrowed from Europe) and was an advocate for implementing crop insurance.

In addition, Franklin is attributed with introducing scotch kale, swiss barley, Chinese rhubarb, and kohlrabi to America from Europe, and for introducing timothy grass and Newtown Pippin Apples to England, along with a number of nuts, trees, and shrubs to France.

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