My wife, Connie, grew up in this house basically. She works at the Eastham library—she’s all Eastham. I moved to the Cape in ’83, but further down. I originally moved to P’Town, then I moved to Truro in ’88 and lived and worked there until six years ago, when we got married.
I had always been in the boat business by default. I moved to the Cape for other reasons, but that’s what was available for work, so that’s what I did and it sort of stuck with me for a long time because I could make money at it. But when I was a kid growing up, I had worked on my uncle’s farm in western New York, in the Batavia area, which was the biggest farm in the state, something like 8,000 acres. Then after that I had worked on an organic farm in West Virginia with another set of relatives. So I learned both sides of the farming business—the big and the little. That was way back then. I’ve been gardening ever since—I always liked to grow my own things—but I never had my own farm until Connie and I got married, got this piece of land, and decided to do that.
About five years ago, I stopped in at a farm stand down in Orleans owned by a friend of mine, Judy Scanlon. She said to me, “You’re farming in Eastham. You have to grow Eastham turnips.” And she gave me some seeds and got me started. I didn’t know anything about them, I had just moved here. I didn’t realize all the history that was behind it, all the value involved. I grew some and they grew well, so I started selling them and realized they were worth a lot of money.
It’s the flavor that makes the big difference. They’re delicious—they’re very sweet, and they don’t have the tart bitterness that most turnips have. They’ve become a traditional Thanksgiving vegetable. We have lots of people buy them and mail them to relatives all over the country because they have to have them for Thanksgiving. A friend called me up yesterday and said, “I’ve got to have six big ones for Thanksgiving. My mom just called me from Connecticut and said if I don’t bring them down, don’t come.’”
There’s a section in the back of the book 1491 about how the Amazonian Indians created this very fertile soil, and modern scientists are studying that soil to figure out how they did it. They’ve found that it was mostly based on adding charcoal to the soil. From there, I made some charcoal and put it in the soil and found that my turnips doubled in size.