George Washington’s Kale

George Washington KaleAfter months of waiting, I finally got White House tour tickets for my family. So last Thursday we headed to DC for a long weekend and, while the rest of the Verona CSA group was at pick-up, we were at Mount Vernon, looking at George Washington’s kale. We were also looking at the founding father’s walnuts but I thought that would push the bounds of good taste in a headline.

Mount Vernon could be held up as a model organic farm, except that, in the mid-1700s, that was really the only kind of farming around. No synthetic pesticides to run off into the picturesque Potomac below, no fungicides on the fruit trees. Of course, Washington’s success as a farmer–he had 8,000 acres and was highly successful–was due in no small part to the fact that he was also a major slave owner. He freed his slaves only upon his death.

George Washington SquashMount Vernon today is a fraction of its old size, but several colonial-era farming practices are still in evidence. There was a deep, straw-lined manure pit next to the stables, much to the dismay of a group of visiting teenagers. And yes, I did try to explain why that was a good idea until my older son rolled his eyes and moaned “Mommmmm”. There were also several beautifully maintained garden plots, with rows of lacinato kale, cardoons, and several kinds of winter squash and cabbage.

None of which, alas, was for sale in the gift shop. But I did pocket a walnut or two.

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