Jul 272011

This past Saturday I treated myself to a tour of the house and grounds of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. President. The visit was as wonderful as I hoped.

It is in recent years that I developed a respect for Mr. Jefferson and his accomplishments, and learned the extent of his knowledge and intellectual curiosity. My previous thoughts about Mr. Jefferson were colored by modern political drama. Both dominant U.S. political parties claim him as one of their own and love to fight about it – boring and unimportant.

When I was in elected office I sometimes found myself stuck in a room with a couple of colleagues who would argue whether Thomas Jefferson was a Republican or Democrat. Usually neither had much of a grasp of the actual life and politics of our dearly departed president, nor did I. I have since amended my lack of knowledge and enjoy studying the man and his times. Although I must add that I still don’t know the answer to my former colleagues’ dilemma. I have a suspicion he wouldn’t fit well into either party.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries Thomas Jefferson tried to establish an olive industry in the new United States of America. He had a personal passion for olives and olive oil. He imported many foods for his own consumption and to share with others; among the items were wines, cheeses, olives, and olive oil. Mr. Jefferson recognized the value of a commercial olive industry collecting saplings and seeds in Europe during his travels and sending them home. As a practical matter, he envisioned an olive tree for each slave in the United States, providing good and bountiful nutrition.

In an article entitled, Thomas Jefferson’s Legacy in Gardening and Food, by Peter J. Hatch, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, Mr. Hatch writes that Mr. “Jefferson ranked the introduction of the olive tree and upland rice into the United States with his authorship of the Declaration of Independence.” In his own lifetime Mr. Jefferson knew the impact of the Declaration of Independence. For Mr. Jefferson to have ranked the development of an olive industry with a “game-changing” document such as the Declaration reveals to us the importance he placed on the industry and his disappointment when it did not happen. If you’d like to know some of the reasons the olive industry did not take off in his lifetime see my article “Thomas Jefferson Was Olive Crazy Too“.

It was in 1850 (twenty-four years after Thomas Jefferson’s death), when California was made a state, that Mr. Jefferson’s dream had a chance to come true, and it has. A good idea is still good even if it takes a long time to happen.

May the sun shine through your branches.