story & photos
by Alexis Ann
(Click on photo for ID’s)
On the first day of August, John “Whit” Davis of the Stanton-Davis Homestead, Stonington, celebrated his 85th birthday at Sunday’s Farmer’s Market held on the grounds of the Pequotsepos Nature Center doing what farmers love to do – bringing their products to market. In awe, following Whit with my camera as he cheerfully greeted market goers while moving about, unloading the famous sweet corn, green beans, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash and more, from his red truck. A slogan painted on his truck– “No farmers. No Food” is a reminder of the significance of farming, sometimes taken for granted.
Longtime family friend and helper, Dara Karas, tacked Happy Birthday signs to his produce stand and when Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek, Jr., arrived on the scene to wish Whit a Happy Birthday, she presented a luscious cake to Whit. People gathered to hear Selectman Ed thank Whit for his dedication to farming over the years. Those joining this informal gathering without microphone or podium emitted warm affection, appreciation and genuine respect for Whit Davis’ 74-year career and eleven generation legacy of farming on Stonington’s oldest farm.
“Stonington is proud to have Whit Davis as one of its residents as he and his ancestors have brought and maintained a rich history for Stonington and he continues the work ethic started by his family centuries ago,” praised Selectman Ed.
Perhaps, a bit embarrassed with the Selectman’s praises, Whit joked, “Okay…You can always tell a politician!”
On a more serious note, Farmer Whit made his point with passion, “You people better realize that once it’s gone, it’s gone! They’re not making any more land. If you want to keep developing it for condominiums and fancy houses, etc., you won’t have it to survive on. It will be destroyed!”
Whit thanked Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek, Jr., and market-goers for supporting local farmers and for the many expressed happy birthday wishes. Everyone who wanted to enjoyed sharing birthday cake with the Man-of-the-Day! Happy Birthday, Whit, from your friends at the Resident! Glad I could attend your party! Your sweet corn is the SWEETEST!
Century Farm Citation: Stanton-Davis Homestead
The Stanton-Davis Homestead is in lower Pawcatuck in the southeastern corner of Southeastern Connecticut. This is where Whit Davis and eleven generations of family lived and earned a living. The Homestead began in 1654, when Pequot Plantation, in an array of land grants, gave Thomas Stanton 300 acres at “Pawkatuck.”
Louis Magnarelli, director, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, welcomed guests to the annual Plant Science Day held every first Wednesday of August at the Lockwood Farm, a Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, Hamden.
“This year we have a lot of mosquitoes. People who are analyzing these mosquitoes for encephalitis viruses tell me that they have captured and identified about 167,000 mosquitoes so far. Advice: “If they’re biting, go inside,” instructed Louis.
Dr. John Anderson, distinguished scientist, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, explained, “The Century Farm Award goes to a farm that has been in family operation for more than 100 years. The Connecticut Agricultural Information Council selects the recipient.”
Dr. John Anderson presented the Century Farm Award 2009. Dr. Anderson quoted Whit Davis from the last chapter of the book, The Earth Knows my Name, “A Yankee Farmer and Sacred Indian Corn” by Patricia Klindienst, “I’m the 11th generation of the family to work this farm and I may be the last. This is the last working farm in Stonington and it was also one of the first. We haven’t missed a crop here since 1654.”
Citation from the Governor…. “The Stanton-Davis Homestead is located in lower Pawcatuck, part of the Town of Stonington Connecticut. Thomas Stanton started the first business in 1654, which consisted of a gristmill and later a sawmill. Surrounding an historic mid-17th Century farmhouse are more than 300 acres of prime farmland, which has been cultivated for at least 355 years.”
“This property has great historic value spanning thousands of years. John Davis married Sally Stanton who was Robert Stanton’s granddaughter and bought the farm from the Stanton Family in 1772. The farm provided hay to the Continental Army and salt pork, bacon, cider, cheese and other products to the Stonington Whaling Ships. John Whit Davis began farming at the age of eleven.”
“Is that true?” asked John.
“I swear,” responded Whit. The audience broke out in laughter at Whit’s quick and to the point reply.
“He had a garden plot, pony and a cart for the first growing season. For several decades he planted several acres of Indian White Flint Corn, which has been passed from one generation to the next. Strong ties exist between Whit Davis and the Native American Tribes. Having strong interests in conservation, he served on the Stonington Conservation and Inland Wetland Commission and has sold development rights to the State of Connecticut.”
“Today, Whit Davis and his son, Larry grow sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli. Their main crops are upland hay and salt hay cut on the ‘Continental Marsh.’ The salt hay is cut during the winter to prevent damaging the Marsh. Chickens are raised to produce eggs for local farm markets.”
“As Governor, I am happy to join the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment and the Connecticut Agricultural Information Council in presenting this Century Farm Award to family members working on the Davis Farm and who are most deserving of this honor.”
Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek, Jr., “It’s an honor and a pleasure to join Whit and his family today on this wonderful occasion. He has been a tremendous advocate for our town and we are so lucky to have him and his family in our town. On behalf of our town of Stonington I am happy to present a Proclamation to Whit.”
“Whereas the Stanton-Davis Farm, Connecticut’s oldest continuously working farm, has been owned and operated by the Stanton and Davis families since 1654.”
“And, whereas, Whit is the eleventh generation descendant of these families and still maintains the family farm and whereas, Whit became hooked on farming at eleven years old when his father gave him his own garden, pony and cart and hasn’t missed a crop since.”
“And, whereas, Whit has been a strong advocate for conservation by preserving his family’s history and possessions and serving on the Stonington Conservation and Wetland Commission for two decades, as well as, donating a portion of the farm to the Abalonia Land Trust and whereas Stonington is proud to have Whit Davis as one of its residents as he and his ancestors have brought and maintained a rich history for Stonington and he continues the work ethic started by his family centuries ago.”
Edward Haberek, Jr., proclaimed Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 as Whit Davis Day in the Town of Stonington. “ I encourage you to join me in recognizing the remarkable life lead by this humble and incredibly hardworking man.”
Whit’s son, Larry thanked the Commission for the “prestigious award.” “ Although, I do take issue with the passage from the book stating, ‘The eleventh generation will be the last generation.’ I am number twelve!”
Whit, at the podium, begins, “Well, as you heard, we’ve been planting crops there since 1654. The first crop that was planted there were the Indian corn, Indian beans and squash or pumpkins. Coming over from England they brought rye, wheat, oats and hops for their ale. The cattle they brought over was short horned and long horned Devon. They were dual purpose for milk, cheese, butter, used as oxen and they were good for beef.”
“Now, I’ve got kind of a pet peeve…I’m glad I have a group here to pass it on to. Last year in our little State of Connecticut we lost 9,000 acres to development. That’s kind of deplorable. Now, do a little arithmetic. How about the next 10 years, if it continues at this pace?”
“That’s 90,000 acres! I’ll leave it to the experts with their computers and all that to figure out how many tons of potatoes? How much sweet corn? How much food can we grow on 90,000 acres? We know where it comes from and we can preserve it – keep it. Any farm family has to pay an inheritance tax. You have to sell a piece of the farm to pay the tax. Then, the farm is no longer economically sustainable. So, how many times does the farm’s family have to buy that farm back from the government?”
“Something is wrong with our leadership in Washington. Someone has to have some common sense… some foresight and address this issue. It’s got to be done!”