Long before the majority of our presidents were lawyers and professional politicians, they found their joys and made their livings off the land on family farms and ranches. Our past presidents have a rich history in agriculture, a fact which is often forgotten in today’s commercialized world. To honor Presidents’ Day and our country’s farming past, we’ve compiled a list of some of our most honored and celebrated presidential farmers.
Our very first president, George Washington, lived at Mt. Vernon in Virginia. There he had a very successful plantation and explored innovative farming techniques such as crop rotation and introducing grains to tobacco-focused farmland.* He also knew that, as a wealthy farmer, he could take risks to increase his bounty which would then lead other American farmers who were less well off to similar agricultural success.
The gardens at Mt. Vernon
John Adams, our second president, was also a farmer. His farm was a bit further north than Washington's in Peacefield, Massachusetts. There his family worked over 40 acres of orchards and farmlands before, during, and after his presidency.
Thomas Jefferson, tinker, inventor, and third American president, farmed over 5,000 acres of rich Virginia farmland at Monticello.* There he cultivated over 330 varieties of fruit and vegetables as well as raising cattle, sheep, poultry, and honey bees. Interestingly, since the honey bee is not native to North America, Thomas Jefferson’s interest in apiary helped bring about their popularity and eventual necessity for pollination in our food supply.
Beautiful views at Monticello
James Monroe’s farm in Oak Hill, Virginia was established in 1724.* It has been a working farm ever since and is currently privately owned and operated.
Both William Henry Harrison (#9) and James C. Tyler (#10) were farmers as well.*
When most people think of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, they think of a tall, lanky man, an ax and a cherry tree or an impressive orator. But Lincoln was a farmer before studying law. He lived on his family farms in Illinois --Sinking Springs Farm and Knob Creek Farm -- and was responsible for establishing the Department of Agriculture, the Land Grant system, and the Homestead Act.
Lincoln's home - Photo credit: Doug Kerr
Teddy Roosevelt, #26, has always been known for his conservation efforts, including establishing a national parks system, but he was also a cattle rancher.
Three presidents who presided from the 40s through the 70s -- Harry S. Truman (#33), Lyndon B. Johnson (#36), and Jimmy Carter (#39) -- were all farmers as well. Truman and Johnson were midwestern cattle and dairy livestock ranchers while Carter was a peanut farmer from Georgia.
Our country’s agricultural history is plentiful and rich. To honor this history and to celebrate Presidents’ Day, make sure you thank a farmer.
Photo credit: United Soybean Board
*Many of our early presidents were also slave owners, and their successful farms and plantations would not have been as bountiful and rich were it not for the labor of their slaves.