“If you can’t or won’t observe the basic laws of horticulture, then forget it. Either do it right, or don’t do it at all, because the results just won’t be what you wanted. You’ll simply be wasting your time and money.” ~Booker T. Whatley
I just love this quote by Dr. Booker T. Whatley, (born November 5, 1915 in Calhoun County, AL, died September 3, 2005 in Montgomery, AL) who was an Alabama horticulturist, author, and Tuskegee University Professor of Agriculture. He was one of the pioneers of our current sustainable agriculture practices, continuing the work of George Washington Carver, a faculty member of the previous generation at TU.
Dr. Whatley examined efficient farming practices that allowed farmers with fewer resources to make the most of their farm while finding sustainability financially. He was a passionate advocate for what he called “smaller and smarter” farming, and this idea is central in his book, How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres (1987). In it he explores his ten commandments of farming that assist the farmer in minimizing unnecessary costs, limiting wastes, and maximizing income and farm space with smart crop selection. His work continues to be a guide for small farmers towards success and sustainability.
One of Dr. Whatley’s ten commandments was the importance of what he called a Clientele Membership Club. Members of this club paid an initial membership fee which contributed to the success of the farm. In return, they received fresh produce that they would pick themselves. This ensured a constant cash flow into the farm while saving on time and labor. He identified this as an essential aspect of a successful farm in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Today this idea is commonly referred to as Pick-Your Own (or U-Pick) and was the jumping off point for the onset of community supported agriculture (CSA) which is becoming more popular as the local food movement continues to grow.
Reading through Dr. Whatley’s work and reading to interviews he gave, it’s clear that he was very much ahead of his time, and pretty darn funny too. His full list of 10 Commandments contains some of the playful humor:
"The Guru's" (Dr. Whatley) 10 Commandments.
Thy small farm shalt:
- Provide year-round, daily cash flow.
- Be a pick-your-own operation.
- Have a guaranteed market with a Clientele Membership Club.
- Provide year-round, full-time employment.
- Be located on a hard-surfaced road within a radius of 40 miles of a population center of at least 50,000, with well-drained soil and an excellent source of water.
- Produce only what their clients demand—and nothing else!
- Shun middlemen and middlewomen like the plague, for they are a curse upon thee.
- Consist of compatible, complementary crop components that earn a minimum of $3,000 per acre annually.
- Be 'weatherproof', at least as far as possible with both drip and sprinkler irrigation.
- Be covered by a minimum of $250,000 worth ($1 million is better) of liability insurance.
Dr. Booker T. Whatley was the original “Lean Farmer” and has left a very impressive legacy and body of work for us to learn and grow from. Whether you have ¼ acre or the full 25 Dr. Whatley writes about, his book is full of solid, transferable information and worth the read. Add it to your list, and next time you venture out to pick your own strawberries, fill your basket with apples at the nearest U-Pick family farm near you, or sign up for a CSA share, give a “thank you” to Dr. Booker T. Whatley.
Sources and further reading: