Horsing around: Science teacher experiments with farm life


By Elijah Ryan Baker

It is 4 p.m. on a crisp Friday afternoon as Chemistry teacher Fred Pellerito packs up his papers and heads for home.

He starts up his 2010 silver Ford Fusion for his daily hour-long commute home to his two-acre farm in tiny Hadley Township, Michigan, which is near Ortonville, wherever that is.

The long drive is a quiet refuge for Pellerito. “It’s my only alone time without someone telling me what to do,” says Pellerito, who has taught at Southfield High for 27 years.

Every week, for 10 hours, he is sequestered in his car, driving to and from work, away from both students and family members. For Pellerito, the daily hour drive each way has become a therapeutic part of his lifestyle.

He says he enjoys the alone time after working around more than 1,000 kids and teaching up to eight hours throughout the day, not including staying after school on some days and being stressed over lesson plans and meetings.

His entertainment comes from listening to the gospel public radio channel 102.7 (FM) and, occasionally, bluegrass music. “It’s inspirational and it’s different from the other music I listen to,” says Pellerito.

On this particular day, he has allowed a reporter and a photographer to ride home with him and study his lifestyle the way he has students study cells under a microscope.

After close inspection, it turns out that 13 years ago Pellerito traded in his comfortable two-story subdivision home in Farmington Hills to try a more rural life with his wife, Beth Pellerito; daughters Hannah, 20; and Bethany, 16; and son Nick, 18.

Senior Breyon Gaston says that all of Pellerito’s students eventually learn about Nick’s cerebral palsy and that he is deaf and communicates in sign language. “He tells us he doesn’t treat his son any differently,” says Gaston.

Pellerito says he does not worry about balancing his career with his home responsibilities. While he is at work, the women in his family take care of the animals. Son Nick cannot do as much because of his cerebral palsy, but that does not stop Nick from playing and enjoying the animals’ company. He particularly loves to ride horses, Pellerito says.

Pellerito and his family never lived on a farm until they owned one. It was his wife Beth’s love for animals that would lead Pellerito to give up the comfortable suburban lifestyle for a home on the range. “She had a lifelong dream of horses,” says Pellerito.

In the end, Pellerito says it was his unwavering love for his wife that led to the move. His actions speak to the axiom “A happy wife is a happy life.”

Pellerito says he wanted to see to it that his wife was happy, even if it meant completely altering the lifestyle of his family and giving up his quick 10-minute commute down 10 Mile Road to work.

His wife said, “I’ve always loved animals, and I thought this environment would be a good place to raise children.”

After 13 years on the farm, daughter Hannah says she gets nervous when she goes to the city. She has become a rural girl.

Pellerito admits he was hesitant to experiment with farm life because he knew nothing about it, and the science teacher in him knew that his only option was to adapt. It would be a new experience and sacrifice all in one.

The move meant that Pellerito had to learn quickly how to balance one more role. In addition to being a father, a husband, and a teacher, he added the role of farmer.

It began with building a stable for horses – another part of his wife’s farm dream. Over the farm years, the Pellerito family has owned 20 different horses, but not all at once. The family has also owned chickens, a miniature donkey and a miniature horse.

The hardest adjustment about owning multiple animals at once is caring for them in the winter, says Pellerito. He has to wake up early in the morning to go outside and feed them.

Another adaption has been the cost of raising the animals, especially the horses. The horses were originally purchased for approximately $200 a piece. In addition to that, it costs $3,000 to $4,000 per year to maintain each horse.

But after being trained, the value of each horse increases, and it can be sold for a profit, Pellerito explains.

Besides animals, Pellerito also likes to grow some of his family’s food now that he has farm land. “We had vegetables from the garden and fruit from the fruit trees,” says Pellerito. Over the years, the Pelleritos have grown cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, strawberries, apples, pears and spaghetti squash.

Of his move to the farm, Pellerito says, “It was a big change. I don’t think I ever got used to it; it’s just hard work. It took at least a year to get used to the farm, and it took several years to get used to the horses.”

Now he’s a man who straddles two worlds—by day he is surrounded by students and the noise of a busy high school, but by night he’s surrounded by quiet and stars and white ducks peeking in his back porch door.

The nearest city to Hadley Township is 30 minutes away. With climbing gas prices, that means keeping a schedule of trips to town and planning out the day.

Pellerito says that looking back, he’s glad he made the move. Darkness has fallen as his Fusion approaches his white ranch home. The road sparkles where the snow has landed to reflect the beauty of nature; and as he drives through the rugged terrain, the trees twinkle when the beams of his car lights hit the snowflakes.

In the headlights, an obscured animal darts across the road and hides. Or does it? In tiny Hadley Township, the critter, like Pellerito, might just be headed home.