We are lucky to have our own urban hillbilly and farmer, Dennis Whittinghill, living in our neighborhood. There is a huge movement to have a backyard or window food gardens, raise chickens, and live a little greener all while living in a city.
Dennis was one of my first friends when I moved to the Heights and we would sit together at RNA Neighborhood meetings, eat tacos on taco Tuesdays, and he became my handyman. I have been able to watch his lifestyle transformation and learn a lot from him, but there is so much more. So I knew that when I began to create the “Growing in Jersey City Series” I would interview him. He lives off the grid in a city on the grid and I want to share his experiences and worldviews with you.
Dennis took the movement and made it a true lifestyle by quitting his corporate job, growing a beard, and diving in. He slowly transitioned his backyard to an urban food forest with 6 different fruit trees, an in ground firepit/grill, a chicken coup with lots of Betties (chickens), multiple bee apiaries (hives), and most recently an aquaponic growing system. He has a roof garden over his porch and all of his foraged items out front for the passerby to ponder.
The photos in this article are really from his backyard and you can see the work and
energy he has put in to making this his sanctuary and his home.
Dennis left corporate America because “I was looking for a better lifestyle, a healthier lifestyle. Freedom. I constantly saw my employees leaving college with so much debt begging for a job that pays them 20, 30, $40,000 a year and being part of the system. If you weren’t in the upper management, they kept changing and lowering the pay scale while saying we were having record profits.”
Now, when he makes money he feels like it is his because he built it. “I am not making someone else money. When I do something for somebody it should be a one-on-one exchange, like a barter system and money is bartering because cash is a paper IOU. We are surrounded by middle men as is it the biggest industry in this country. I want to cut the middle man out.”
When Dennis began this journey he started slowly. He began looking for a house with a backyard he started Googling “green things.” He wanted a garden and wanted to be a little bit healthier. He also shut off the TV and started researching - What is life about? Where does our food come from? "I started being more interested in permaculture. Permaculture is a way of building and designing land. Being a city boy with a condo, I was learning how to design hundred acre food farms. The more I looked into it, the more I realized what was wrong with our food system. Realizing what we put into our food, which has been used to hurt other countries and lands, then goes into our bodies. And once I learned about it, there was no way not to change and so I changed my lifestyle.”
He couldn’t stop. The more he researched the more he wanted to know. “I asked what kind of backyard I wanted. Oh! Don’t dig into the ground. Oh! Don’t use RoundUp on my plants. I am so curious and I want to learn everything and it is hard because our food system is so broken. I am doing everything I can to fix mine. If other people can learn from it good; we can learn something together. We have a food problem and my solution is to grow my own."
"I am getting ready to live my life.”
His biggest challenge has not been having structure in his life. He went from managing 18 stores in Manhattan to having money in the bank and not having to work. "Well, I still have to work, but I don't have someone saying to me 'You have to be at work!'" But this has also been the most rewarding - finding what freedom means. Not just in his schedule and structure, but from social constructs and ideas.
Dennis does not keep this information to himself; he shares his life in many ways. “I am vocal on social media (check out his links at the bottom of the article). I had meet ups and I want to continue to do them. I have taught at schools, colleges, and various groups in New Jersey. I talk to survivalist groups to educate them on not stocking up on food, but to providing your own food. Getting your own chickens is so much healthier and a step in the right direction.”
Speaking of Chickens, earlier in the day, Dennis had gotten a call from someone who gives their children chickens for Easter to raise for a week, teaching them the value of raising an animal. They then normally donate them to a school or farm nearby. Instead this year she reached out to Dennis and asked if he had poultry. He responded, “Who is this and why do you want to know?” And then she explained the story about her family.
When I came back the day after my interview to pick up my Farmigo order, she had just dropped the chickens off ... early. We think she kept one but had a problem with the others. So while she had to pass the baby Betties off, I was lucky to see them in their cute baby-ness.
Click here to read Dennis' top tips on changing your life and becoming more RIVIV JC and
my tips to be a little greener.
To find out more about Dennis check out Riviv JC