Thursday, March 4, 2010

To Whit

I stumbled across this fascinating documentary about the past, present and future of Connecticut agriculture. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the farmers interviewed was John "Whit" Davis of Stonington.

I got to know Whit in the late 1980s and early 1990s when I worked for a tiny weekly in Mystic. He is a living link to the past, an 11th generation farmer whose family has worked 300 acres at the mouth of the Pawcatuck River on the border with Rhode Island since the mid-16th century. He is passionate about farming and preserving the agricultural way of life, over the years refusing repeated offers to sell his land that would have made a very rich man. Instead, he chose to keep raising animals and vegetables and continue long lost agricultural practices that were once common like salt marsh haying.

Whit is the archetypal "Swamp Yankee." I grew up in Connecticut , but never heard the expression until I moved to the southeastern part of the state bordering Rhode Island. Swamp Yankees are descendents of the state's original settlers who have largely disappeared from the most of the state, having dying out or been absorbed by waves of Italian, Polish, Jewish and other immigrants. They survive at the state's peripheries, driven into the "swamps," if you will.

Swamp Yankees are known as no nonsense, practical to a fault, fiecrely independent and a bit cranky. Whit fits all those characteristics to a "T." He's also very smart. And very funny. I'll never forgot a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at which he warned in his old Yankee accent (neither Rhode Island nor Massachusetts, probably the way Connecticut natives talked 100 year ago) that he feared the town was becoming SSRS: The Soviet Socialist Republic of Stonington. He brought the house down. The audience, I would add, was laughing with him, not at him.

Here's a link to an article last year about Whit's 85th birthday.

The video rightly points out that Connecticut agriculture is at a crossroads with some seeing it on the verge of dying out, while others believe a revival is imminent. Whit's old ways are indisputably a path into the future: a farm that raises both produce and animals for sale to locals and respects the land and its traditions.

I wish Whit many more healthy years. He is a shining path back to a better food system, better food and a way of life based on independence and doing what one loves instead of money.


  1. Fantastic post! Well written and informative! I'd like to meet Whit.