story & photos
by Barbara Reed Collins
John Whitman “Whit” Davis will be 84 years old on August 3, and for all his life he will be a proud farmer. “I was 11 years old when my father bought me a Shetland pony and a two-wheeled donkey cart. That spring he helped me plant a garden and taught me how to take care of it,” recalls Whit. “Then he said I could keep the money from whatever I could grow and sell.”
He did a milk route with his father, and followed the same route with the cart as he peddled the vegetables he grew. “I recently came across my account book that I kept back then. I sold 133 bunches of radishes at three cents a bunch,” he says, grinning. He earned a total of $75 that summer with sales of raspberries, squash, corn, lettuce and tomatoes. It was the making of Farmer John, or Whit, as he is known to thousands throughout the area and those who frequent the multi-acreage farm, at the end of Greenhaven Road in Pawcatuck.
At the time of the interview, sweet corn was being planted. The rich black soil was already greening up with early vegetables. The pride Whit takes in his work is evident as he speaks. A sign, “No Farmers, No Food,” is on the red truck he drives from his Ledyard home to the farm.
“What would people eat if we didn’t plant?” he wonders aloud. He says Americans must recognize the value of farm-raised food. What comes in from faraway places carries too many unknowns. “I don’t use any pesticides or chemicals; don’t want to handle it, don’t want it in my soil, or on my food,” he declares.
The soil, Whit says, can provide some economic savings along with hearty dishes. He knows when and what to plant, when and how to harvest, and all the other points of gardening wisdom. All he has learned will be shared with others in a journal he is writing. He described a friend’s philosophy: “Always try to put an older head on a young pair of shoulders.” And a good farmer, he says, needs to think ahead about the world’s food needs.
A younger person can take what Whit knows and start out with that information, and avoid the trials and errors of “playing catch-up.” He believes his words can be a great guide.
“I’m keeping track of what I plant, when I plant, when I pick. So, somewhere down the line, a younger person benefits. All they’ll have to do is pick up that journal. They won’t have to be 80 years old before they know what works best for this area.”
For now, Whit’s continuing the annual planting of
fields. Acres of corn seeds are already warming in
the ground, ready to break through the earth and
yield tender ears in many varieties. Information
about all his garden products can be obtained by calling 860.445.0787.