The Small Farm Plan By Booker T. Whatley

In this 1982 interview, horticulturist Booker T. Whatley describes his idea for a small farm plan that can net $100,000 a year.

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    The $100,000 plus plan for small & limited resource farmers.
    Illustration By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
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    Booker T. Whatley at his home in Montgomery.
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    A 35-HP tractor, with attachments, is ideal for the small farm.
    Photo By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff

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You might say that the problems facing America's small farms are like the weather: Everybody talks about them, but nobody does anything about them. After all, it does seem that most agricultural "experts" and country-oriented publications have lamented the plight of the family grower, and done so without suggesting any specific program of action to remedy the situation. Horticulturist Booker T. Whatley, though, is one individual who's definitely rolled up his shirt sleeves and started fighting for the small farmer. Over the course of the past eight years, this scientist developed a remarkable plan for a 25-acre family farm capable of providing a gross income of $100,000 a year, and he supervised a successful working prototype of his dream at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute. 

And that's not all. The recently retired agriculturist ("I'm retired but not retired, if you know what I mean") is currently overseeing the establishment of another model farm at Montgomery's Trenholm State Technical College — spreading the word about his innovative growing scheme through workshops and lectures (with the help of the huge 4-by-10-foot canvas map you see reproduced on the facing page), consulting with officials in various states and nations about limited-resource farming schemes, and publishing the Small Farm Technical Newsletter to give specific instruction to individual growers. 

Furthermore, although the effort to help save America's small farms is at present taking up the greater part of Dr. Whatley's time, he's had a lifetime of varied horticultural experiences. Raised on a family farm in Annislon, Ala., Booker received his B.S. in agriculture from Alabama A & M and a Ph.D. in horticulture from Rutgers University. 

During the Korean War, he operated a 55-acre hydroponic farm in Japan. (The water-grown crops were needed to feed American troops as the soldiers often contracted amoebic dysentery if forced to eat local produce raised in ground fertilized with "night soil," or human waste.) 

Dr. Whatley has also originated 5 sweet potato and 15 muscadine grape varieties, written more than 40 scientific papers, done research in biomass fuel production, been elected a fellow of the American Society for Horticultural Science, and been honored by the Alabama State Legislature. 

Yet this experienced professional hasn't let his credentials and successes taint his warm "just folks" manner. Indeed, when photographer Anita Ingle and writer Pat Stone flew down to Montgomery last January to visit the doctor and his wife Lottie, they were immediately made to feel like welcomed friends rather than strangers on a job. Nevertheless, the work got done. The interview session started at eleven o'clock in the morning and wasn't completed until nine o'clock that night. 

2/24/2021 1:26:20 AM

Wonderful article, thanks for sharing and capturing the spirit of the man



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