For everyone like me who can’t stay focused for longer than 30 seconds –the story goes like this:
I grew up in California, used to play baseball, retired from baseball, moved to Tennessee, and bought a farm. I now raise Hogs, Turkeys, Chickens, and Cows. The meat is really good and is completely free of all the stuff you would find in supermarket meat. You should try some!
Now for everyone else, here ya go!
According to Google the average farmer is 58.3 years old. I imagine that most of those 58.3 year old farmers have farming in their blood – their parents, grandparents and probably great great grandparents did some type of farming before them. Farming seems like one of those occupations that is passed down from generation to generation as you often hear old timers tell stories about being raised in the tobacco and corn fields. They fed the chickens when they were younger and helped Dad put out the hay in the winter time. I grew up in a small neighborhood on a street called Whitaker Avenue in a suburb of Los Angeles, California. To me the closest I got to farming was picking strawberries from a stand on the side of the road. So, after a nine year career in professional baseball I did what every normal, logical, California born, guy would do – I bought a farm. Not only did I buy a farm but I also moved 2200 miles away from the city I grew up in. Learning curve? Slightly. I landed in Gallatin, Tennessee on 45 acres where a windy, two lane country road will lead you to a humble, gravel driveway and a place I now call Whitaker Farms.
So why did I leave the stadium lights playing every night in front of thousands of fans to spend every day light hour in a field covered in poop? Great question! Luckily I grew up in a home where wholesome, pronounceable ingredients were served at the dinner table every night. A lot of that changes though when you get out on your own, especially in a travel-heavy job. The baseball lifestyle, at the professional level, is not very conducive to healthy eating. You think it would be the opposite because of how much we use our bodies, but reality sets in and most of us go to what’s convenient. The first couple of years in the minor leagues I ate enough peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to last a lifetime. Add that to late night bus trips where you only stop at gas stations and budget clubhouse meals purchased at Wal-Mart and you have a dietary disaster. See, for the longest time I always thought chicken was chicken and broccoli was broccoli – healthy right? Wrong. I think the movie that started it all for me was Food, Inc. I had always tried to eat healthy, but that movie opened my eyes to something entirely different. After that my free time was spent figuring out how to get the best possible food into my body so I could perform at the top of my game every night.
Towards the end of my career I knew this was something I wanted to continue to pursue. After shuffling thought the minor leagues again my last couple of years in ball, I exhausted every resource there was on sustainable, healthy farming. My man crush on Joel Salatin led me to read everything of his I could get my hands on. I scoured the Internet and watched and re watched all the You Tube videos I could find on how to raise healthy animals and create symbiotic relationships. What started out as an idea to make myself a better baseball player, I quickly realized that everyone on planet earth needed to eat like this! All this led to an organic phase, a juice phase, a local phase, and even an order food off the internet and have people come deliver it to a random place in town where I pick it up phase.
So now back to the farm. I picked up 3 chickens from a neighbor and kept them alive all winter so I felt as though I was ready to dive in to this farming thing. What’s the big deal? Set up some electric fence, build a couple of shelters, move a couple of animals – I’ll start slow. Slow looked like 50 broilers (farm slang for chickens that are raised for meat ;) once the weather warmed up and I actually raised them in my front yard because I wanted to stay close to them. Well, those broilers all got ummm, killed by a couple of stray dogs – and after that I don’t really know what happened. A couple days later I ordered more chickens, found a craigslist ad for hogs, and found a family that would sell me some cows. The problem really came in my search for two guard dogs. A family that was relocating to Florida had a couple for sale on craigslist. So I made the two hour drive for dogs, but came back with 2 dogs, 13 more hogs, a mobile chicken coop, 500 pounds of non-gmo feed, and a new order of laying hens. Mix in another group of cows, more chickens and at one point and time I counted 297 animals. Needless to say everyone though I was crazy, heck I thought I was crazy. What happened to slow?
That first spring/ summer I wouldn’t really consider farming. I really just chased animals around the farm all day and hoped that they would stay in long enough so I could eat in peace. I really wondered why all the farm books never really highlighted this part. I mean if I were to write a farm book, the first 50 pages would be on farming and then last 150 pages would be on how to build fort like structures so that you can actually have a peaceful nights sleep. Oh, by the way, during the middle of all of this I got a job being a fire fighter. My lieutenant would just laugh at all my stories and call me the worst farmer in Sumner County – he was probably right.
I’ll tell you what though, I loved it (read hated it). I thought baseball was hard, but farming might just be equally as tough some days. The day where your truck busts a fuel line on the highway and you coat it and everything behind it in diesel fuel. The time when the cows got out the very first night and you spent 12 hours trying to get them back in, almost killing your friend who was probably 30 minutes away from a diabetic emergency. The night when a flash flood magically appeared and at 2 am you pick up 250 soaking wet chickens, dry them all off and stick them in the mobile coop. I did learn one thing though from that summer, you get through it.
From the first order, to the first “oh my gosh that’s the best bacon ever”, you realize that it was all worth it. If it wasn’t for great friends, and even better neighbors I wouldn’t be where I was today. It’s really incredible to watch people get behind you in the toughest of times. I hope you get a chance to one day visit Whitaker Farms and get to share in the joy and life that happens here!