"The Whigs would hardly believe that a much larger portion of my time is taken up with devising ways & means to multiply the quantity & improve the quality of manure than in forming political plans or any such Matter."
Martin Van Buren, 1843
As an astute politician Martin Van Buren recognized the connection between farm practices and political power. In the early years of the republic Van Buren and others constituted a group known as "soil improvers," who hoped to reverse the common practice of moving west to new lands. Their goal was to create a more sustainable agricultural system while also preventing the loss of political power that would result from the depopulation of the northeast.
The rich soils of Lindenwald are far more than simply "dirt." They are the result of centuries of complex interplay between natural forces and human cultivation. Historian Steven Stoll explains that the soil improvers of Van Buren's day considered the farm field part of "a delicate system of return powered by the sun and managed by cultivators who saw soil as the totality of matter passing through their hands."
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Early in life Jesse Buel (1778-1839) was editor of the Argus, the official newspaper of Van Buren's political machine, the "Albany Regency." Later he devoted
himself to agricultural reform, helping to found the New York State Agricultural Society and serving as a trustee of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is best remembered as the editor of antebellum America's most widely read farm journal, The Cultivator, whose motto read "to improve the soil and the mind."
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President Van Buren's land is now farmed by Roxbury Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation using sustainable methods that would be recognized by the 19th century soil improvers. Guided by principles developed by Austrian thinker Rudolf Steiner in the 1920's that saw the farm as an organism, Roxbury's farmers compost manure and use cover crops (such as the clover seen here), crop rotation, and sophisticated plowing techniques. In doing so they sustain and improve the "living tissue" of soil on which we all depend for healthful food.