March 2012

Dear Mr. Jefferson

By Jude Schuenemeyer

Sunday mornings on KSJD there is a show, “The Thomas Jefferson Hour.” Jefferson scholar Clay Jenkinson acts the part of the late president for questions and conversation. Given Jefferson’s knowledge of fruit, I could not refrain from sending this to him:

Dear Mr. Jefferson,

I will not attempt to gather round me the clouds or the currents that allow this conversation to be possible; I will accept what I cannot understand. Since I am afforded this opportunity I respectfully submit to you questions concerning the propagation of fruit.

Of all of this which we share, from your Virginia to my Colorado, these states still united, we are joined by the crisp bite of the apple, the ethereal flavor of the pear, the bursting transcendence of the peach. Some of that which was in your orchard still exists in my orchard.

In between your time and my time was a great dominance of fruit in America. The observant work of your time, seeding, budding, grafting, allowed more than 16,000 varieties of apples to fill orchards across this imaginative land during the 1800s.

You, sir, lived in an informational age. Word could be transferred in print or in person across the globe. Yours was a round world united.

I too now live in an informational age. Technology has allowed a monsoonal deluge of fact and fiction to travel the world through fibers of light in a near-instant fashion. I live in a compressed world connected.

Though not in perfect symmetry, I live roughly as far from you in time as you lived from hand-written books and the flat earth. The distance between you and me is not just one of time but of a people separated from their agricultural heritage by industrial revolution and this informational technology.

My questions for you are not for trivial reasons, nor from a curious sense of knowing. By the end of my century, food production must be doubled to feed the population of our world. But currently we farm through non-sustainable models of monoculture requiring direct tax subsidies and an abundance of non-renewable resources. As a people we are killing ourselves with an excess of processed calories made cheap at taxpayers’ expense.

But in this there is potential for a small revolution. If we can do more to feed ourselves by the strength of our backs and the resolve of our character, will we not become the republic that you have imagined?

If this will be our time and our calling, then a recollection is in order so that we might piece together that which was known but is now forgotten. The cultivation of fruit belongs to every man. A homeowner with but an apple tree or a farmer with a diverse orchard can be equally sustained by the wholesome goodness of fruit.

On your farm you had many fruit trees — from where did they come? Did they come to you bare root from a nursery? Did you do your own budding and grafting? Who if any on your farm budded or grafted fruit trees? Did you teach slaves to graft? How about women? From where was the knowledge of grafting attained? Which types of grafts did you employ? What tools were used and who made them? As you traveled, at home and abroad, did you seek out orchards and orchardists? What did you learn from them? What books did you have on the subject? In your reading did you ever come across the origins of the graft — that place and time where person and plant, tool and technique united to such purpose as to create life from life?

I ask these questions with great respect for your time and knowledge. Please illuminate as you can.

Jude Schuenemeyer is co-owner of Let It Grow Garden Café and Nursery in Cortez, Colo.