Most people in Fairfield know Wyatt Whiteman. They just don’t know they do. He lives in an old farmhouse that dates back to 1760. He raises chickens, rabbits, ducks, and horses. He even has a tiny Dexter cow named Bridey. He grows an organic garden. He has his own beehive. And, all of this farm activity is done on one acre of land on a busy street.
But that’s not what people know Whiteman for. They know his house because of the gigantic carved pumpkins he puts out front every October. But his neighbors know him as the guy who sells them organic produce. They also know him as the guy who cooks meals over his fireplace and doesn’t use electricity periodically.
“Imagine what this was like even one generation ago, living off the land with an outhouse in back,” Whiteman said of the property he inherited from his family.
Standing tall not unlike a grizzly bear recently awakened from a long winter’s nap, he will tell you he prefers to live a simpler life from a simpler time. He remembers when life was without its technology and its gadgets. Today, however, his house comes equipped with computers and DVD players. He’s even got an above ground pool out back. “It’s for the kids,” he said of his three children, the youngest of whom is a toddler.
What he also gives his kids is fresh food from his garden. “There’s something different about it. Take a whiff. You’re not going to smell anything like that in the supermarket,” he said, breaking an oversized carrot in half.
Whiteman believes food grown in your own back yard is better than store bought any day. His neighbors, who formed a CSA called Mama’s Manna this summer, are happy to share those beliefs. They have benefited from the tomatoes, squash, eggplant, peppers, and everything else he grows. He’s also provided them with the honey from his hives.
“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.”
But for fellow neighbor and CSA member Valerie Wilke, accepting the fruits of Whiteman’s labor is a pretty easy task. “The beauty of it was it encouraged my kids to try new things like white eggplant,” she said. “We’re just really happy there’s a local grower you can talk to. He’s really responsive.”
Whiteman has taught classes about surviving in your own back yard. He has taught with Fairfield school system in their Continuing Education Program as well as cooking classes at Debra Tyler’s Local Farm in Cornwall.
Whiteman and Tyler share their views on a simpler life. She agrees with Whiteman that farming is hard work. She said she considers it a “sound health care plan.” But it offers an inner peacefulness that you can’t get from sitting in front of a computer at your desk.
“Our technology has upped our expectations as to what we can do in a day so much that our lives are incredibly fast paced,” she said.
Tyler would rather spend her days birthing a calf or planting a garden. “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.”
Whiteman also sings the praises of canning your fruits and vegetables. He believes canning is a lost art. Most people don’t know how to do it unless their grandmothers taught them. But it’s a great way to keep eating fresh foods all through the winter.
It’s how our colonial ancestors used to eat. Whatever they grew organically during the summer months was canned and preserved for the winter months. Nothing went to waste. And Whiteman will tell you that dressed in colonial garb in a self-made 40-minute video illustrating the best way to cook a chicken dinner over a roaring fire.
While Whiteman may not be mainstream in his livelihood, his philosophy about life should be. Live simply. Eat what you grow. Leave your plastic world behind.
Sometimes the simplest things are the best things.