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Don and Michelle Whitefield - raising animals and vegetables naturally

Inside the barn at the Whitefield Farm during a visit this past week, there were hundreds of animals, cage-free and naturally fed, milling around or resting in their pens. Roosters strutted, turkeys gobbled, and pigs squealed and theyre all housed in the barn. Many of the creatures are free to wander outside into fenced-in areas. The smell was pungent and earthy. The chorus of chickens bawking reminded me of a ladies club luncheon I would never want to attend. The Whitefield Farm is a small but diversified family farm set on 28 acres of land, with a small retail store where the Whitefields sell their own maple syrup, fresh natural chicken, brown eggs, bacon, sausage and ham steaks, along with a large selection of pesticide-free produce. Don Whitefield, who owns and operates the farm with his wife Michelle, talked recently about the farms origin. Don grew up in Paramus New Jersey, and he spent his childhood summers in the Adirondacks exploring, catching frogs, snakes, and fish. "It was heaven," he recalled. As he grew older, Whitefield would hunt in the fall and fish in the spring. At the age of 18, Whitefield moved upstate permanently. Michelle, from Hadley-Luzerne, met Don at a tavern. "He thought he married a country girl," Michelle said. "I lived here all my life, but was afraid to be outside by myself. And I still don't know how to swim," she added, laughing. The Whitefields began their farming work by raising their own produce and meat to feed their family. "It was fun," Michelle said. "And we saved a lot of money." The couple started with 50 chickens, but when they ate the first one, Michelle was disappointed, she remembered. "It was very tough," she said. The two learned by trial and error you had to let a chicken sit for a day before you cooked it. When word got out the Whitefields were raising chickens, people wanted to buy their eggs; then they wanted to buy chickens, zucchini and cucumbers, the Whitefields said. Before long, it was time to look for a bigger farm. For two years, the two looked all over for a suitable farm, even in New Hampshire, but didnt find one they wanted. But across the street from where they lived in Athol was 300 acres of farmland with a barn, a property they had admired, but the price was high. When the owner subdivided the property, the Whitefields ended up buying the barn and some surrounding acreage. They bought the plot, fixed up the barn, and now, 11 years later, the Whitefield Farm is a comprehensive operation. While I visited last week, 200 five-week-old chickens scurried around under heat lamps. "How does it affect you to see the animals alive and feeding and then packaged in the refrigerator for sale?" I asked. "I've been hunting since I was a little kid, so it doesnt bother me," Don replied. "If I think about it too much, I just won't do it, and people have been doing it for the last 10,000 years and when you think about what people are doing to each other, killing a chicken ain't so bad." Apparently, from what I've been told by the Whitefields, chickens aren't the nicest creatures in the world. "Especially the laying hens," Michelle said. The guy who delivers their grain calls them rats with wings, Don said. "I laugh when I see these egg cartons they'll say 'free-range, total vegetarian diet," he said. "But if the chickens are outside, they're not vegetarian. They're eating whatever they can get frogs or snakes and sometimes each other." "They're like little dinosaurs," Michelle said. "If they got to be 200 pounds, they'd rule the world." Alfred, a male pig, is about 500 pounds with razor-sharp tusks. He lives in a stall with four girlfriends, who will eventually become pregnant. Alfred is pretty docile, because when Don acquired him as a piglet, they developed a friendship. According to the Whitefields, pigs are very smart. They like to go outside, and even though Don closes the garage at night they find a way to open the door with their snouts. In another room, several pink piglets romped, their little blue eyes curiously watching me. "If I could keep them at that size, everyone would want one as a pet," Don said.But in six months they'll be 250 pounds, and they'll top out at about 1,000 pounds if you let them." Outside the barn, the Whitefields have reclaimed the land that was once so thick with brush. Now, they walk the property every day, enjoying the land and tending to their gardens. They grow an extensive selection of produce from salad greens to potatoes, beets, corn, and pumpkins. It was picking day while I was there, and one of their helpers had harvested 38 pounds of beans to sell at the Warrensburg Riverfront Farmers Market the following day. "Tomorrow is a mad rush," Michelle said. "Because I don't pick the greens until the day of the market. I get up at 8 a.m. and pick till 1:30." "With such a hectic lifestyle, what are your eating habits?" I asked. They both laughed. "That is the funniest thing about this," Don said. "When we first started doing this, we did it because we wanted to grow our own food, but now that we're so busy, we end up eating pizza and subs." Don and Michelle do love to cook and they try once or twice a week to savor a meal together, eating what they have produced. "It's a great feeling to sit down for a meal and enjoy our own food," Don said. "Does eating your own food make you feel any healthier?" I asked. "I guess," Don replied. "I mean, I think a lot of your health is just your attitude and if you're happy with what you're eating, whether there's any scientific proof or not, you're going to feel good." Michelle Whitefield offered her thoughts on their natural farming enterprise. "We do what we do not because of any political reason, we do it because we like doing it, and the stuff that we raise is just so good, she said. Buy a tomato in the store or grow one in your back yard and then tell me which one tastes better." Jessica Kane is a long time resident of Brant Lake. Her column will appear regularly in the Adirondack Journal. Suggestions for this column are welcome and can be submitted at thom@denpubs.com.

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