Local farmer sees opportunity in distillery

June 30th, 2010

John WhittemoreParts of the road leading to John Whittemore’s place on Short Mountain can feel like someone’s private driveway at times. But once you’re there, you know it by his barking dogs and John’s commanding voice telling them to leave the car alone.

I caught up with John around 10 this morning to talk about signature gathering for the November referendum. John is excited about the opportunity a distillery would bring to Short Mountain and is helping gather necessary signatures to bring it to the people of Cannon County for a vote.

When I pulled up, John had just put in a good half a day’s work on his Blues Hill Farm and nearby Morning Side Farm. He looks every bit the part with his overalls, straw hat and occasional spit of tobacco juice, a habit he admits he picked up from his grandfather.

Despite the ups and downs of farming life, John says he has never been happier than he is farming. After he met his wife Becca and had two children, Hank (14) and Anna (12), John made the move back to the area in search of a quality of life he remembered growing up, and he found it on Short Mountain.

Everything John’s family needs is here. Becca, a Vanderbilt graduate, home-schools their two children. John not only appreciates local culture, he supports it in various ways. John occasionally plays with a group a friends in a band called the Short Mountain Boys. For years he provided white oak materials to local renowned basket makers through the White Oak Timber Co-Op. He even has an active Screen Actors Guild membership through acting in local performances at the Arts Center.

The Whittemores grow pretty much everything they need. They rarely shop at a grocery store, and what they don’t have they trade to get. A neighboring Mennonite family has milk and cheese. John will trade corn for beans, and there is no shortage of wild game. In fact, there’s not much you can’t get on Short Mountain, and it’s been that way for more than 100 years.

Back in the early 1900s, John’s great grandfather, Roofie Parker, made what family lore says was widely respected whiskey and moonshine. John thinks his brother Clay might have helped run it around the hills. The law didn’t like it, and Roofie spent a couple of stints in state prison for it.

Several descendants have had their share of run-ins with the law, but John’s grandfather, Kenneth Parker, didn’t like the outlaw lifestyle much. He had other ideas and bought up land around Roofie and his brother. Kenneth raised cattle and farmed the land. He has a road now named for him.

Any farmer will tell you farming is hard work. If you are looking to make a living, you’ll probably have to settle with making a life. Like most farmers, John stays busy to make ends meet, and he likes the idea of a distillery producing an American brand of traditional Tennessee spirits on Short Mountain.

For John, a distillery would protect a way of life he wants for his children. It would create a sustainable relationship with local farmers and connect tourists with a story of Short Mountain and the community John knows well and wants share. He also sees the opportunity it can bring to our schools and local community.

It’s an opportunity that can’t come to Cannon County without a referendum, and John is working hard to make that happen.

If you see John in Woodbury, stop him and say hi, and if you want to give the voters a chance to decide whether they want a distillery in Cannon County, you can sign his petition.

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