Chris Wyatt, who grew up farming with his grandfather, was struggling to work his land in rural Alabama. With his 44-year-old tractor leaking oil and in desperate need of hard-to-come-by parts, he was in trouble.
That is, until last November when he got a big boost from readers of The Federalist responding to an article about his need. Generous donors gave more than $25,000 to a GoFundMe account for Wyatt to buy a new tractor — now covered in red dirt from his fields — that arrived in early January.
When Wyatt looks out over his family farm in rural Alabama, he sees fields of watermelons, peas, corn, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and lima beans. He sees a fenced-in pasture for his herd of goats and a blooming peach orchard.
The fields are nearly bare now — just a few rows of winter turnip greens and collards that the deer have been pillaging. There’s only one goat (and a donkey to protect him) and four peach trees. But with his new tractor, his strong faith, and his grandfather-inspired confidence, Wyatt is dreaming big.
In fact, Wyatt has already cleared dozens of new acres for spring planting. He’s aiming for 75-100 acres total, more than twice the fields he planted last year. He never could have done it without the new tractor and front-end loader he bought, thanks to generous Federalist readers.
The story of this fourth-generation black American farmer who was determined to farm full-time on land his great grandfather had bought during the Jim Crow years of segregation elicited support from across the country.
Readers who donated to GoFundMe cited his hard work ethic, commitment to the land, and perseverance through the many obstacles he had to overcome — coyotes killing his goats, deer eating his crop, and a more than four-decades-old tractor that just wouldn’t stop letting go of its oil.
Wyatt’s story is one of faith, family, and tragedy. His father died when he was just three months old. While his mother Shirley worked, his grandfather Mitchell Parker helped raise him, teaching him everything he knew about farming. Whenever his mother came home from her job and asked where her son was, he was always “out in the fields” with grandpa.
On Thanksgiving Day, 2001, his grandparents’ home caught on fire, and his beloved grandfather died in the blaze. Wyatt was devastated. He still feels an ache in his heart about that tragic day. So he was determined in 2020, after pursuing several dead-end jobs over the years, to return once again to his first true love: the land.
Through a GoFundMe account linked to the story, readers donated $26,097 for a new tractor, with another $1,500 sent in private donations to New Salem Baptist Church, where Wyatt is a deacon.
After learning the high delivery costs of new tractors, Wyatt bought a used Kubota tractor from an online farm equipment sale in Oklahoma for $19,000. A friend of the family picked it up and delivered it in early January. His Japanese-made 2016 tractor came with a Bush Hog front-end loader and has a cab for protection from the weather. It boasts considerably more horsepower than his old International Harvester and has four-wheel drive.
He is putting it to work every day in the heavy red-clay dirt, clearing his land, and will use the remaining funds to buy a planter (his present rusty one is 50 years old) and pay for fencing for the goats he will buy, along with more peach trees.
“I love it,” he said. Wyatt is at a loss for words when he thinks about the generosity of donors who gave without knowing him. “I am so so thankful. I wish I could give some greens or peas to everyone who donated.” The strong church-going family also donated from readers’ gifts to their church, which they have attended for decades and which has helped them through years of grief and struggle.
Wyatt personifies quiet patience and persistence in pushing forward to realize his dream. He still works nights as a basketball referee, to help keep his bills paid.
Out on the farm, he senses his grandfather’s presence, especially on days when he is overwhelmed. “I can still hear my granddaddy singing that old gospel song he always sang when I got a little down: ‘Shine on me, Lord, Shine on Me.’”
“It helps me remember the Lord is in charge,” he says with a sense of peace, “His Light shines on me every day.”