We were so fortunate to have bestselling author of The Founding Gardners and The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf at Montpelier this week. She regards James Madison as “the forgotten father of American conservation.” I agree with Ms. Wulf!
Mr. Madison’s well-documented speeches on the importance of land conservation, forest stewardship, and agriculture reform urged farmers to plow their fields using methods that prevented erosion and rainwater runoff. Madison knew this meant more work for farmers and the enslaved that worked the land but, he also knew the rewards would be significant.
“Had the practice prevailed from the first settlement of the country, the general fertility would have been more than the double of what the red hills, and indeed all other hilly lands now possess; and the scars and sores now defacing them would no where be seen,” Madison noted.
Looking back as far as 1818 we are able to document Madison’s guiding principals for land conservation. In fact, his address to the Albemarle Agricultural Society should be considered one of our nation’s founding documents on the subject of conservation. His key point still ring true today:
Preserve trees as natural resources
Do not cultivate depleted land
Soil fertility is gained and preserved through crop rotation and manures
Robust crops require irrigation
Thank you Andrea Wulf for the passionate reminder that James Madison is not only the Father of the Constitution and the architect of the Bill of Rights but also the Father of American conservation.
As the sun shines and we plant our gardens and explore the great outdoors, I encourage you remember Madison’s philosophy that nature cannot be made subservient to man.