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Chef Alice Waters milks a cow at Monticello
Jack Looney

Alice Waters, whom the New York Times has called “the spiritual mother of all that is organic and sustainable,” has cultivated a close relationship with Monticello. The recipient of the 2017 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership, Waters has helped guide and shape Monticello’s commitment to promoting agricultural stewardship at Tufton Farm and inspired the creation of Farm Table, a café at Monticello.

Chef, author, food activist and the founder and owner of the world-renowned Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, Waters has championed locally grown, organic agriculture for more than four decades. She founded the Edible Schoolyard Project in 1995 and is the author of 15 books, including The Art of Simple Food I & II, The Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea and her latest book, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook (2017). 

Heritage Harvest Festival

Groups of young people outside a row of tents at the Heritage Harvest Festival.

Alice Waters and renowned Atlantic food writer Corby Kummer will serve as co-chairs of the 2019 Heritage Harvest Festival, which takes place on Sept. 21. Hosted by Monticello in partnership with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Seed Savers Exchange, the festival welcomes more than 3,500 visitors from across the country to Monticello’s renowned West Lawn — promoting gardening, farming, sustainability, farm-to-table cuisine and the preservation of heritage plants. 

The festival highlights American chefs and foodways by exploring the varied food cultures that influenced Monticello’s unique cuisine. At the heart of the festival are the educational tent talks presented by top authors and subject experts who share important conversations on diverse topics of food, farm and garden. Local artisans, children’s programming, regional samplings, food and beverage gardens, DIY workshops and an Old-Timey Seed Swap round out this highly anticipated annual event.

Farm Table, a café at Monticello

American statesman Daniel Webster noted in 1824 that Jefferson “enjoys his dinner well, taking with meat a large proportion of vegetables … Dinner is served in half Virginian, half French style, in good taste & abundance.” Farm Table café embraces Jefferson’s well-documented dedication to seasonal produce and hospitality, along with Waters’ emphasis on the importance of fresh, local food. Through an innovative farming program implemented on Monticello’s nearby Tufton Farm, the new café will take full advantage of resources right on Jefferson’s grounds. 

Carrots, peppers, squash and beets arranged inside and around a basket. 

While its produce remains local, Farm Table’s cuisine casts a much wider net. The menu features sustainably raised, seasonal food inspired by the diverse food cultures — Native American, European and African — that influenced cooking at Monticello. Read more about the culinary legacy of James Hemings, an enslaved chef.

Alice Waters - In Her Own Words 

Chef Alice Waters in front of Monticello's West Front columns speaking on April 13, 2017.
Jack Looney

“Jefferson is the founding father who has influenced me more than any other figure in American history. He inspires me for one big reason: Because he dreamed of the same future I dream of today — a nation given its essential character and its deepest principles by the values of farmers. 

“As we all know, he collected hundreds of fruits and vegetables. Just reading the names of their varieties is exhilarating. He loved variety, but he wasn’t collecting just to build a collection. He was a ruthless, methodical experimenter. He always kept track of things. Wherever he was, he observed. He paid attention. He recorded things. And he enjoyed it all.

“Jefferson imagined a different future, a nation of small farmers growing delicious food. And as he wrote in a famous letter to the first Supreme Court Justice, John Jay: ‘cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, & they are tied to their country & wedded to it’s liberty & interests by the most lasting bands.’

“I share Jefferson’s belief in an agrarian ideal of a farmer because I know young men and women farming today who are upholding that ideal. And I have enormous hope that there will be more and more of them with every passing year.”

— Excerpt from Alice Waters’s keynote address for the Founder’s Day Celebration at Monticello, April 13, 2017