Agriculture has always been an important part of Stratford Hall, even before Thomas Lee bought the land from Nathaniel Pope in 1717. The rich soil and temperate climate provides a wonderful environment in which plant life can thrive. It is very evident by the cornucopia of vegetative species that grow here at Stratford, which in turn provides food and shelter for the wildlife that flourish here. One only needs to visit Stratford and walk our grounds to see the squirrels collecting nuts from the oaks and hickory’s that grow on the Oval, deer grazing on the grasses on the vista, turkey trotting through the leaves pecking for insects, and eagles flying overhead as they guard their nests high in the trees overlooking the Potomac River.
The rich fertile soil and natural resources is what the 18th century colonists would make their fortunes from. Cutting down forests for the lumber opened up the land for tillage. Working the soil made rich by the decaying tree leaves, the colonists would grow crops for food and trade, the most noteworthy being tobacco. But 18th century farming practices were hard on the land. Without the knowledge of fertilization, the crops would deplete the soil, leaving planters with bad crops in the subsequent years. The only remedy was for a planter to acquire more land, timber more forests, and till new fields.
As the new farm manager here at Stratford, I have the wonderful opportunity to showcase 18th century crops using 21st century agricultural knowledge. Unlike the Lee family, we now have over a century of agricultural research and experimentation at our disposal to maintain the land we farm. Through rotational planting systems and grazing, cover crops, conservation tillage, and nutrient management planning, I will seek to demonstrate a productive farm that improves the soil quality and is environmentally sustainable.
This new farming initiative kicked off with the planting of rye this fall in a field that had been in hay production for over a decade. Next spring, we will be planting corn to be used in our own gristmill. And yes, we will have a small plot of tobacco here as well to honor the heritage of Stratford Hall being a tobacco plantation. I look forward to this wonderful challenge and invite you to come and visit us to see how we are growing!
-Chip Jones, Farm Manager