by Eileen Weber
Wyatt Whiteman is a farmer. He grows an organic garden. He has his own beehive. He raises chickens. And rabbits. And ducks. And horses. And even a tiny Dexter cow named Bridey. And he does all of this on one acre of land in the middle of Fairfield.
To say that Wyatt Whiteman is a little unorthodox is like saying Mt. Everest is a foothill. But Whiteman doesn’t seem to care that he might be a little off the beaten track. What he does care about is the land, particularly the land he grew up on.
His house dates back to 1760. In fact, he inherited it from his family and has lived there all his life. Previous generations lived off of what was once three acres of farmland. “Imagine what this was like even one generation ago, living off the land with an outhouse in back,” said Whiteman.
Now at only a third of that size, Whiteman sells his produce on a little stand at the edge of his property. He’s known around town for the gigantic carved pumpkins he displays on his front stoop for Halloween. Last summer, he sold enough tomatoes to buy wood pellets to heat his home. This past summer, he even started a CSA with his neighborhood.
“The beauty of it was it encouraged my kids to try new things like white eggplant,” said Valerie Wilke, a neighbor and member of Whiteman’s CSA called Mama’s Manna. “We’re just really happy there’s a local grower you can talk to. He’s really responsive.”
That’s because, to Whiteman, fresh food is better than store bought any day. “Did you hear that crunch?” he said as he bit into a green pepper off the vine. He said the same thing digging half-long carrots out of the ground. “There’s something different about it. Take a whiff. You’re not going to smell anything like that in the supermarket.”
Sure enough, the carrots had a deeper smell of carrot. The celery was a darker green and gave off the same scent it would sweating in an iron skillet as the base for a stew. The peppers had a crispness you don’t see in the flabby piles at the supermarket.
Whiteman will tell you that anyone can survive on what they raise in their own backyard. Dressed in colonial garb, Whiteman also has a 40-minute video illustrating how to cook chicken on a string, among other dishes, over an open fireplace. He has taught classes through Fairfield’s Continuing Education Program as well as how to cook a whole chicken dinner at Debra Tyler’s Local Farm in Cornwall.
Tyler shares Whiteman’s view on a simpler life. She considers it a “sound health care plan” knowing that her work feeds her friends and family.
“There is something deeply satisfying about growing, harvesting, and/or preparing our own food,” said Tyler in a recent e-mail. “It creates a sense of connectedness to the land and to our innate creative abilities. It also requires one to slow down and pay attention to the task at hand. Our technology has upped our expectations as to what we can do in a day so much that our lives are incredibly fast paced.”
Whiteman prides himself for living off the land and not using electricity whenever possible. To some, that might sound idyllic; to others, not so much. Whiteman often doesn’t have enough money to fund his great ideas about simpler life. His house is crowded and cluttered. “Sorry for the mess,” he explains, “but this isn’t Martha Stewart’s place.”
But he doesn’t care how pretty things look. “Farming is hard work,” he says. “But to a lot of people it’s just the flavor of the month. They don’t want a zucchini because maybe it’s a little dirty or has a worm on it.”
Whiteman talked about a woman who stopped by his farm stand. She was having company and wanted perfectly shaped red tomatoes. What Whiteman had was a bunch of heirloom tomatoes, not the “vine-ripened” kind that are picked green and made red by ethylene gas.
While his fruits and vegetables may not be perfect, they’re organic, local, and fresh tasting. They don’t carry harmful pesticides and they weren’t artificially grown in a distant hemisphere. His produce, much like himself, is a throwback to a simpler time: An era in which nothing was wasted and everything was recycled because it had to be.
Whiteman may not necessarily be an everyman or have a common philosophy. He does, however, make a really good point. You can survive on what you grow in your own back yard. And frankly, you should.