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Thomas Jefferson was a strong advocate of testing new crops and incorporating them into crop rotations. The Jefferson Institute and the national initiative for crop diversification are named after Jefferson to honor his efforts to diversify and strengthen American agriculture.


When writing about his own services to his country, Jefferson wrote, "The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its [agri]culture."

The above statement appears in a memorandum that Thomas Jefferson wrote (c. 1800) about his services to his country. What is particularly notable about the quote is that Jefferson makes the statement after mentioning several things he is much better know for, such as writing the Declaration of Independence. 

The full memorandum written by Jefferson which contains the "greatest service" statement, is contained in several books, including Peterson, M.D. (ed.) 1984. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Published by Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., New York, NY, p. 702-704. The memorandum begins with Jefferson writing "I have sometimes asked myself whether my country is the better for my having lived at all? I do not know that it is. I have been the instrument of doing the following things; but they would have been done by others; some of them, perhaps, a little better." He then goes on to list, and in some cases briefly describe, some of the things he had accomplished, including The Declaration of Independence, laws on freedom of religion, the act prohibiting the importation of slaves, laws on inheritance, criminal justice, citizen rights, and efforts to promote eduction. He describes at length his efforts to get new plants imported and used in the U.S., and then makes the "greatest service" statement.


Other quotes by Jefferson on new crops:

We are probably far from possessing, as yet, all the articles of culture [crops] for which nature has fitted our country. To find out these, will require an abundance of unsuccessful experiments. But if, in a multitude of these, we make one or two useful acquisitions, it repays our trouble.
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Drayton (1786)

I received the seeds of the bread tree. . . . One service of this kind rendered to a nation, is worth more to them than all the victories of the most splendid pages of their history, and becomes a source of exalted pleasure to those who have been instrumental in it. 
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to M. Giraud (1797)

The introduction of new cultures [crops], and especially of objects [plants] of leading importance to our comfort, is certainly worthy the attention of every government, and nothing short of the actual experiment should discourage an essay of which an hope can be entertained. (In other words, test the new crop before assuming it has nothing to offer.) 
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to M. Lasteyrie (1808)


All of the above Jefferson quotes were in a section of agricultural quotes of Jefferson's in the Jefferson Cyclopedia. 1900. Foley, John (ed.) Frank and Wagnalls, NY. Some of the above quotes, and the ones below, also appear in a more recently published book, the Thomas Jefferson Farm Book, 1999, by E.M. Betts (ed.) Published by Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Charlottesville, VA.

I have always thought that if, in the experiments to introduce or to communicate new plants, one species in an hundred is found useful and succeeds, the ninety nine found otherwise are more than paid for. 
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Vaughan (1790)


Some additional Jefferson quotes on agriculture

Good husbandry with us consists in abandoning Indian corn and tobacco; tending small grains, some red clover, fallowing, and endeavoring to have, while lands are at rest, a spontaneous cover of white clover. 
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington (1793)

Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness. 
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington (1787)


 

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