I realized that time has quickly slipped by and it’s been almost a year since the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. I wanted to see what the festival was all about for several years. 2015 was the year I was finally able to get there. Tickets were purchased, the hotel was reserved, leave was scheduled, and the car was packed and ready to go on another back road trip.
After a long, winding trip through North Carolina to Charlottesville, VA I arrived to find a bustling town situated in a beautiful, mountainous region of the state. In fact, Monticello means “little mountain,” and indeed this historic estate is perched atop a mountain overlooking the lush valley below.
This was my first visit to Monticello, and Charlottesville for that matter. The city of Charlottesville is beautiful, especially in the fall. The University of Virginia campus is right near the Downtown Mall, an eight block long pedestrian mall, which is home to shops, restaurants, galleries, and offices. There are also several parks in town.
If you are going to attend the Heritage Harvest Festival, I recommend you go all in and purchase the VIP tickets. Why? The perks! Although more expensive, it’s worth it. You’ll have access to parking at the visitor center, get discounted rates on classes, be able to attend the opening night event with the keynote speaker, and have access to the VIP tent, which provides food and beverages during the festival. Parking alone is worth paying for the VIP. Otherwise you are relegated to taking the shuttle from the nearby college to the visitor center.
Last year the Fabulous Beekman Boys were the keynote speakers at the opening ceremony. The event was held in the Paramount Theater, a beautifully restored theater from the golden age of cinema. It was the perfect venue to host the Fabulous Beekman Boys!
Josh and Brent of Beekman 1802 fame were witty and informative. At the time they were embarking on a new project, the Farm-to-Shelf project, which launched in Target stores across the US on 1 November 2015 and has flourished since the launch. You can check out my post about them here.
The festival offered so many things to do! On Friday before the festival I took several classes in their newly constructed, sleek, LEED certified visitor center. Not only is there a wonderful courtyard, museum, gift shop, and theater, but they also have numerous classrooms downstairs. My classes ranged from Vinegar Making Basics and How to Make Ricotta, to Growing Great Garlic & Onions, and Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden.
Making vinegar: easy, right? Ummm, the jury is still out on that one. And no, I haven’t tried making it on my own yet. Honestly, it seems much more difficult than Gabriele Rousse, vintner and Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, made it sound. Very chemistry-y, if you know what I mean (with lots of opportunities to mess up your vinegar). It’s still on my things-to-do list though.
My favorite of the classes was the How to Make Ricotta Cheese which you can read here. I made ricotta last weekend using Maple View Farms milk and JQ Dickinson’s salt and nigari following the Dickinson’s recipe. It was scrumptious!
Another class they offered was Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden given by a former master gardener of the Jefferson estate, Peter Hatch. If you are an avid gardener, the garden at Monticello is to gardens as what Graceland is to Elvis fans, and a pilgrimage to the estate to see it is a must. I’d like to say I was there for the whole class, but I got overheated and fainty
Ira Wallace, one of the owners of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and cohost of the Heritage Harvest Festival, discussed growing perennial onions and heirloom garlic, something I have not had the chutzpah to venture into as of yet. Charming and soft spoken, Ms. Wallace is extremely knowledgeable about all facets of gardening and provided a wealth of information. I have yet to grown any garlic or onions.
Festival Day itself included food, vendors, classes, tents with various talks during the day, plus people dressed in period clothing demonstrate their crafts such as blacksmithing and basketry. Essentially the festival was everything you could imagine related to gardening, plus you get to see “a day in the life” of people living on Jefferson’s estate. Oh, and I met Thomas Jefferson himself and he’s lookin’ pretty good for an elderly gentleman farmer. Check out my other photos here.