5 Great Reasons to Attend Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival

| September 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

Tomato Tasting at the Heritage Harvest FestivalI’ve said before how impressed I was on my first visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (on a normal day). I’m here to say that after the 10th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival last weekend I’m recommending it even more fervently. Over the coming days I’ll share 10 big reasons why you should reserve the date on your calendar NOW to attend the Festival next year, September 22nd, 2018. No seriously, where’s your calendar?

This 5,000 acre plantation which Thomas Jefferson lovingly named Monticello (“little mountain”) has been a Guests Waiting for the House Tourcreative work in progress for nearly 250 years! Jefferson was not only one of our Founding Fathers; he was also an inventor, botanist, architect and so much more. Needless to say, history is one of the primary reasons for the preservation of this site. On a Festival weekend you’ll encounter glimpses into the past where you least expect them, but if you haven’t taken the house tour, it’s the crown jewel of the estate and well worth your time.

 TIP: If you’ve toured the house before or plan to return soon, there are so many activities that are only available the weekend of the festival that you may want to consider saving the tour for another time. Your best bet is to plan another day to immerse yourself in all the marvelous history and architecture surrounding you here.

The opportunities were endless! Guests could choose from more than 30 workshops on Friday and twice as many on Saturday, spanning 5 timeslots each day. There were even a few on Sunday. It looks like they’ve gone to a one-day format now, but I’m sure the offerings are still great. The topics were so varied that we had no problem finding something of interest. Topics were as diverse as Slavery at Monticello, Gardening, Cooking, Sketching, Medicinal Plants, Photography, Nature, Archaeology, Chickens…and the list goes on. As you can imagine, the hardest part was deciding which sessions to attend, because inevitably there were 2 or 3 favorites in one time-slot.

My husband and I divided and conquered; we each attended different activities throughout the day, then shared what we learned with each other later. We were only there on Saturday (but hoping to go both days next year). Everything we experienced was outstanding! We’ll write more about what we learned in the sessions in separate posts, so watch for them.Heirloom Apple Tasting

I attended:
• A Cooking Demonstration by Harrison Keevil at the Chef’s Demo Tent
• An Heirloom Apple and Artisanal Cheese Tasting
• Chicken Whispering: Discover the Chicken You Never Knew

My husband sat in on:
• A Jefferson and Natural History Walk
• Joel Salatin Talks with Thomas Jefferson: The Good & the Bad
• Extending the Harvest: Creating a Four Season Garden
• Scaling up from a Homestead to a Market Garden

If you’re not one to sit still for long, you can explore a variety of outdoor areas on the sprawling plantation. These were some of the outdoor activities:Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden Walk
• Guided Natural History walks through the woodland areas where Jefferson traveled. Guests could join experts in plant and animal life, geology, and the history of the Little Mountain.
• Strolling the unique vegetable gardens and vineyards. After meticulous research and decades of time invested, these spaces now boast the same heirloom plants that Mr. Jefferson cultivated in the early nineteenth century. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation‘s Department of Gardens and Grounds and its Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants research, collect, cultivate, and distribute hundreds of plants that have either a direct connection to Jefferson and Monticello or to historic gardens of North America.
• A short walk to the Stone Stable where recent restoration work has been done provided a glimpse into its appearance and use during Jefferson’s lifetime.
• The Monticello Graveyard could be reached either on foot or by requesting to be dropped off by the shuttle bus on the way from the mountaintop to the Visitor Center. Did you know that our 3rd president and author of the Declaration of Independence died on the 50th anniversary of our country’s Independence Day, July 4th, 1826? You could find his obelisk, as well as markers for many of his descendents, both past and present, at the fenced graveyard. This sacred area is owned and managed by the Monticello Association, a non-profit organization whose members include the lineal descendants of Thomas Jefferson.
The Director of Archaeology, Fraser Neiman hosted a walk to discuss historical clues and artifacts found throughout the mountaintop landscape. A hands-on demonstration was also available to learn more about the archaeological projects currently going on. Guests could try their hand at identifying and piecing together artifacts, as well.

I must say that this was one of my favorite aspects of the festival. So much bounty to captivate the senses!
Cossack Pineapple Ground CherriesTasting Tent Growers –
• At the center of the West Lawn we found a massive pavilion, divided into two sections. One half was stocked with dozens of samples of fresh tomatoes, peppers and melons from the trial gardens at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (co-founder of the festival). Once we determined our favorites, we could shop for the seeds to plant at home next year. A few of my choice discoveries were Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries (a member of the tomatillo family), Amy’s Apricot Tomatoes, and Gilboa Sweet Peppers.

Tasting Tent Purveyors –
• The other half of the tent offered a dozen different tastes from regional food and beverage entrepreneurs. Included was everything from a scrumptious Bloody Mary Mix from Back Pocket Provisions to unique Wildwood Hickory Syrup from Falling Bark Farm.
• I’ll be sharing my top 10 purveyors in an upcoming post. Psst. If you haven’t done it already, now would be a perfect time to sign up in the sidebar to receive future posts automatically. That way you won’t miss a thing.

Beverages for all ages –
• For those over 21, the Beer and Wine Garden provided an introduction to dozens of Virginia’s legendary beers, wines and ciders.
• If guests preferred a non-alcoholic drink, Mudhouse Coffee Roasters hit the spot or I chose a refreshing Sage Peach Lemonade from the Gypsy Juice Cart after tasting several exceptional flavors.Gypsy Juice Bar
• Traditional beverages (with or without alcohol) were also available at the Café at Monticello down the hill at the Visitor’s Center.
• I had never seen this before, but there was a watering station where guests could refill a water bottle or cup (see photo below). What an awesome idea and imagine the reduction in the waste of those throw-away plastic water bottles!

Ingenious Water Hoses TIPS – Please be aware for planning purposes:
 There was only a half hour between each of the workshop sessions throughout the day, which was plenty of time to get from one location to another, but meant there was no official lunch break. I totally understand the need for this in order to fit in all the incredible workshops and to stagger food consumption to keep the lines short, but this meant that we chose to miss a session in order to have a meal.
 Also, with workshops convening from 9:30am to 4:30pm there was only a short amount of free time to visit the other general areas like the Tasting & Discovery Tents, Exhibitors and Vendors. This year I made the difficult choice to skip a workshop to see the other areas. This provided a solid case for attending at least two days next year, although I’m not sure that will entirely resolve the issue. Too much programming can sometimes be a good problem to have.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, Desserts –
• Several inviting food trucks like South Fork, Mouth Wide Open, and Carpe Donut lined the perimeter of the West Lawn where we could have grabbed a bite to eat between sessions, but with so much going on, we didn’t have a chance to try them. It was very warm on Saturday so we opted to skip the 12:30 session and take the shuttle bus down the hill to the air conditioned Café at Monticello. This casual spot is cafeteria-style and included a small breakfast menu before 10 a.m., as well as sandwiches, pizza by the slice, salads, soups, fruit, desserts and more throughout the day. We loved the fact that everything was fresh and flavorful, including much of their produce and herbs, sourced directly from the Monticello gardens!

Warm Grits with Chilled Tomato SaladChef’s Demo Tent –
• Saturday’s sessions included cooking demonstrations by several area chefs. I watched as Harrison Keevil (co-owner of Brookville Restaurant in Charlottesville and Keevil & Keevil Grocery & Kitchen in Belmont) prepared warm grits topped with chilled tomato salad. You may be thinking what I was thinking about the grits, but with a ratio of 1 cup of uncooked grits to 4 cups of non-homogenized milk and a pound of butter (yes, you read that right) it was quite delicious, although probably not too healthy. And the locally sourced tomatoes, onions and peppers provided the perfect topping.

Charlottesville –
• Before or after the festival, be sure to visit the town where many of the purveyors call home. We drove there with plans to try the Brookville restaurant (see chef’s demo above), but sadly they were closed for the day. We did enjoy dinner at their neighbor’s, The Whiskey Jar restaurant, located at the pedestrian-friendly Main Street outdoor mall. A reflection of the town’s history, many shops, cafes and theaters reside in lovingly restored buildings lining the wide brick walkways that once were Main Street.

Ok, I know, many of the activities I’ve mentioned so far could be considered play, but in this case I’m talking about music, games and the like.
• The Saturday agenda wrapped up with a lively performance by the musical group, Red and the Romantics on the Main Stage. Their music is a blend of many genres including Folk, Americana, Rockabilly and Blues. It provided a welcome spot to relax after a busy day before heading home.
• All of the kid-friendly activities deserve a post of their own too. Wow! I’m going to be busy. So stay tuned for more about the historical children’s games, petting zoo, arts and crafts, music participation, etc.

 TIPS: General Admission parking was located at Piedmont Virginia Community College with shuttles running from there to Monticello between the hours of 8:30am and 6:30pm. The buses were prompt and the drivers, like all of the staff we encountered, were helpful and friendly. Guests could expect between 15 and 30 minutes of time between PVCC and the Visitor Center, depending on traffic. If you’d like to save travel time, VIP admission includes on-site parking passes near the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center at Monticello.
 Bring sunscreen, an umbrella and/or hat for sun or rain. Many of the activities were under canopies or indoors, but for those who wish to minimize exposure, these precautions are still recommended.
 Since offerings, prices and plans may change, be sure to visit the Festival website here as the date approaches for the latest details about the Heritage Harvest Festival next year.

Believe it or not, we’ve only scratched the surface on this splendid event. My next post shares 5 MORE reasons why you’ll want to attend.  Also, read more about the Heritage Festival experience from Terry’s point of view. Be sure to sign up in the right sidebar to receive all our blog posts, occasional newsletters, and connect on social media too!

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Category: 1 - 9 Days, Agriculture, Architecture, Culinary Arts, Duration, Fall, Gardening, Health & Wellness, History, Learning Travel, Natural History, North America, Regions, Season, United States, Virginia

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