Hi, my name is Nick Williams and I am a student at UVA. On Sunday, March 20, 2011, my gardening class and I took a trip to Monticello, located right here in Charlottesville, Virginia. Once we got through all of the shortcuts, turns, slopes, and winding roads, we finally made it to Monticello. This beautiful area was filled with many colors and a scent of naturalness; being at Monticello itself felt very magical and yet mysterious.
My class and I drove over to the greenhouse where we first met Pat. Pat is in charge of growing the vegetables at Monticello and tends to a few acres of land. While at the greenhouse, Pat showed how she collects seeds for use in future growing. Through a creative and innovative method of using various sieves, Pat has been able to extract delicate seeds that will eventually be used to fill the Monticello gardens with beautiful and tasty vegetables.
Next, Gabriele arrived to show us the greenhouse and to explain how he plants and transplants various seedlings. Gabriele took us through the greenhouse and pointed out the various seedlings that were growing and further showed us the surprises within the cold frames outside. After the tour of the greenhouse, Pat and Gabriele showed us the vegetable gardens on the other side of the land.
As a gardener and chef, seeing the rows of peas, green and red leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, onions, sea kale, tarragon, and lavender, tasting the spiciness of fresh watercress straight from the ground, smelling a combination of mint and lemon balm, and grasping the smooth texture of fresh sage brought joy and excitement to my heart. In fact, seeing all of these beautiful vegetables made me both hungry and inspired my want to cook a dish at that very moment.
During our tour, Pat tried to test our “great” plant identifying skills. In one quiz, Pat looked to her right, picked up a leaf of one of the plants, turned around and grinned. She suddenly asked, “Ok Nick, since you are a chef-to-be, you should be able to get this, what is this plant?” I grabbed a piece of the leaf and sniffed it. The strong, somewhat mildly spicy aroma truly was familar, and brought me back to my days of making homemade honey mustard. Immediately, I shouted out “horseradish.” The sound of Pat saying “Ding! Ding! Ding!” put a smile on my face because I was right! I had never seen horseradish before that was not already processed and jarred. Seeing the green color, I then quickly asked, “Hey Pat, if this is horseradish, then how does it become the creme colored product that you see in bottles at grocery stores?” Pat quickly replied, “they use the root, and the leaves are not really used for eating.” All I could say to this piece of information was, “wow, I never knew that.”
Being at Monticello was unbelievable and taught me that I have a lot to learn about food. This place showed me–no, proved to me–that nature’s bounty, food, is a truly magical gift that carries with it many mysteries and information that, once harnessed, can make even a five-year-old wiser beyond their years!