Every first or second weekend in September, something fun and fantastic happens at the home of our third president – tents pop up and a crowd gathers to learn about history, heirloom gardening, homesteading, and more at the Heritage Harvest Festival. The festival’s website proclaims that “Thomas Jefferson, America’s ‘First foodie’ championed vegetable cuisine, plant experimentation and sustainable agriculture.” This year, the two-day event included classes on growing garlic, making wine, small-space gardening, chickens in the garden, and more. Aside from workshops presented by such authors as Barbara Pleasant, Harvey Ussery, and Peter Hatch, the festival also featured a grand preview dinner with farmer/advocate Joel Salatin and Growing a Greener World’s Joe Lamp’l.
One of Those “Once-in-a-Lifetime” Opportunities
I had the opportunity to attend the festival for the first time in 2011. I was lucky enough to make a connection with a friend and classmate from my days at grad school, who happens to be the Operations Manager for the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants and who also gladly hosted my stay for the festival. This year, I had the opportunity to participate even more in the festival, by presenting a workshop on the festival grounds. It is definitely one of those career moments when you realize that you are teaching a gardening class to around 100 people in Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden.
Extension Master Gardeners and More!
In addition to the workshops, the local Extension Master Gardeners share fun and knowledge with a new generation of gardeners in their “Roots and Shoots” tent with activities such as making picture frames from natural items and a horticulture quiz. There are other booths, too. Garden companies sell their wares, farms sell their products, and a local group does mini-workshops and booths for traditional crafts and skills such as woodworking, dyeing, and more. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which is a major sponsor of the event, has a tasting tent where you can sample some of their heirloom tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and more.
This festival has a lot to offer for Master Gardeners and non-MGs alike. I’ve resolved that if at all possible, I’ll be attending every year. Next year I even hope to arrange a bus trip for our Master Gardeners to attend. It is an excellent way to combine education and fun, where you can get a taste of the old and the new. I definitely get a recharge at the festival, and come back with more ideas to try and information to share than you can even imagine.
An opportunity for fun and education (and plants and seeds)
If you are passing through, be sure to visit the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, which is near Monticello. It is a hidden gem that most people don’t even realize exists. They have gardens featuring plants from Thomas Jefferson or from the Jeffersonian era. They also have events and open houses throughout the year.by John Porter
WVU Kanawha County Extension Service Agriculture Extension Agent
Charleston, WV @WVUgardenguru