Creating a Life of Plenty

Discovering the Genius of Thomas Jefferson (Part 5): Homesteading


It is a novel concept in this day in age with city life, modern conveniences and 24X 7 available services but in the 17th and 18th and even into the 19th and 20th centuries there have always been people who live off the land. Sometimes by necessity (particularly in earlier days when there were no grocery stores, gas stations or any sort of services), others by choice who learned to sustain themselves in an ecologically respectful way that emphasized self-reliance, low waste and ingenuity.

Homesteading has experienced a renaissance over the last 20 years and in particular the last 10. With skyrocketing costs, corporate greed, dwindling natural resources and appalling food quality people have turned back to basics to produce their own food and supplies free from chemicals, with low carbon and petroleum footprints and also the manage and maintain their home and life with a do it yourself lifestyle.

This is something I have been extremely interested in for some time (although to do this with a modern and stylish twist of course). Once again I am drawn to the lessons I learned at Monticello.

The gardens of course are first in my mind. Both the garden plane as well as the enslaved people’s gardens provided all of the produce consumed by the residents of the mountain. The fruit orchards provided fresh fruit, fruit for preserving and consuming and the vineyards provided both grapes for fresh consumption as well as the raw materials for much of the wine consumed at Monticello. Before it was fashionable to have microbreweries and home brew, even before commercially available beer, the people at Monticello created their own.

Preserving food was also of primary importance at Monticello to sustain the population over the long winter months. Meat and game were preserved primarily by smoking in a smoke house built beneath one of the promenades of the house. Grain cellars also stored wheat and other grains for use. The ice house, a particularly interesting invention was packed with ice from the river below the mountain as well as snow, packed hard and surrounded with straw to insulate. Ice was then used to keep food refrigerated and the run off was used in making beverages as well as drinking as there was a lack of water on the mountain.

Let’s be clear, the kind of homesteading at Monticello is on a grand scale, but the value is in the creative ideas and the ability to adapt the principles to a more modest home like yours and mine. It is also perfectly acceptable to use modern conveniences to help along the way as long as they are used with moderation and respect for their immediate and far reaching costs.

I could go on and on about the lessons learned at the magnificent place about sustainability, homesteading and returning to a gentler and self-sufficient way of life, but this is a blog and I will post my experience as I go along this path!

Happy Gardening!

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