Holiday turkeys with a higher purpose

You’ve heard it before. Our turkeys freely roam our pastures completely unconfined, and are never treated with antibiotics or steroids. They are slaughtered and hand-butchered on our farm in our zero-waste, USDA-inspected processing abattoir. Our turkeys are Non-GMO Project Verified, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Step 5+ in the Global Animal Partnership program.

With these attributes, our turkeys surely will make a great centerpiece for your holiday meal. But this year, our birds have a mission that’s much bigger: to heal and restore the land.

Earlier this year, we purchased 250 acres of land that had been stripped of life by decades of monocultural row crop production. By transitioning to a wide variety of diverse species of plants and animals through holistic management, we are working hard to turn this soil from a dead mineral medium to one that’s teeming with life. This Spring, we took our first step toward restoring the land by moving cattle onto it to eat hay, break up the soil with their hooves, and urinate and defecate to add nutrients to the land.

Now it’s the turkeys’ turn. Following our Serengeti Rotational Grazing Model, these birds are pecking and scratching to open up the soil and evenly spread the fertilizer left by the previous herd. They’re adding more fertility to the soil by depositing manure, removing weeds that the ruminants won’t eat, and preparing the land for the new grasses that are beginning to grow. By simply engaging in their natural behaviors, the turkeys are serving a higher purpose by turning this land into productive pasture that will benefit future generations.

This year, we are especially thankful for our turkeys’ contribution to the organism that is White Oak Pastures, and we are excited to share their goodness with you. We hope you and your family will enjoy our holiday turkeys as much as we do; visit our website to purchase yours.

Photos by Laura Mortelliti.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Top 5 reasons to celebrate our 150th anniversary with us

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Join us the weekend of October 15th as we commemorate our 150th anniversary. We’ll make it a real celebration with our largest event yet. Over the years we’ve refined our traditions and skills, and like the wines Will Harris is well known to enjoy, we only get better with age. If you’re on the fence about what to do the weekend of October 15th, check out the top five reasons to spend it in Bluffton.

1. Grand re-opening of the White Oak Pastures General Store
We’re proud that now that we’ve put the artisanal labor back in agriculture, our little town can again support its own store. We’re putting the finishing touches on our restoration of Bluffton’s 175-year-old general store and we can’t wait to show it to you. Join us for a ribbon cutting ceremony and enjoy the expanded selection of products available, including ice cream.

2. Exclusive livestream of the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium
The Southern Foodways Alliance does amazing work preserving and promoting the diverse food culture of the American South. Their annual symposium is held in Oxford, Mississippi and tickets sell out quickly, but this year we are excited to be able to offer an exclusive live-stream of the event right here in Bluffton.

3. Local farm-to-table food
Lunch and supper will be available for our guests at the White Oak Pastures food truck, and you won’t want to miss Chef Reid’s surprise 150th anniversary signature burger. After a night of celebrating a century-and-a-half on our family farm, we hope you will join us for Sunday brunch in our on-farm Pavilion.

4. Music! Drinking! Dancing!
That wine we mentioned? There will be plenty of it. We’ll have a cash bar to wash down your fine meal with beer and wine, and we’ll welcome the locally famous Bo Henry Band from Albany, GA for a night of dancing in the streets of downtown Bluffton.

5. Be part of the rural revival
We’ve breathed life into our farm village that had slipped almost into oblivion. Take a ride around Bluffton by horse-drawn farm wagon or bicycle, get to know the people who produce your food, and celebrate the regenerative agriculture movement that is putting Bluffton back on the map!

Click here for full event details and tickets. We look forward to seeing you on October 15th.

Categories: Rural Community | Tags: | Leave a comment

Honey as pure as the land

At White Oak Pastures, our bees have been busy this summer making a sweet, golden honey that could only come from this unique place.

Our beehives are nestled in our eight-acre garden and orchard within our 1,000 acres of Certified Organic land. Our bees roam among our blackberries, muscadines, apples, peaches, pears, and nectarines, as well as the native flowering species found in our nearby pastures.

Not only do we have managed honeybee colonies, but we also see a plethora of naturally occurring wild bee colonies throughout the farm. This speaks to the biological health of our organism, in a country where the honeybee population is rapidly dwindling elsewhere. These bees come to us, choosing our pastures over other places in the region they could call home.

What really makes our honey special is the passion and enthusiasm of Luis Tellez, who tends to our bees. Luis is a third-generation hive master from Mexico, where the ancient art of beekeeping was passed down from his grandfather. Luis joined the White Oak Pastures family almost three years ago, when we had just one managed beehive here on the farm. With his attention to detail and love for our bees, he has grown the operation to eight managed hives that produced 20 gallons of honey for our end-of-summer harvest.

Our wildflower honey is raw (unpasteurized), and contains all of the natural pollen found in our flowering plants, as well as their rich floral and fruity flavor notes. Our newest batch of hand-spun and bottled wildflower honey is now available for shipping through our online store. We hope you’ll enjoy this unique taste of the land of White Oak Pastures.

Photos by Laura Mortelliti.

Categories: Regenerative Land Management | Leave a comment

Meet Mary, Queen of Brussels (Sprouts)

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Photo by Laura Mortelliti

As we kick off the Fall season of our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, we are excited to introduce you to one of our organic garden managers, Mary Bruce! We love the way Mary involves herself in so many different functions at White Oak Pastures: she’s also a leather craftswoman, a biodiesel chemist, and she oversees our pastured rabbit and honeybee programs. She is smart, engaged, and always has great ideas for making improvements on the farm. Meet Mary, and catch up on what she’s up to this Fall!

You began your career here as an intern. What motivated you to work your way up to a manager?
When I began working here I had no idea how many moving parts were in this farm ecosystem. My internship was really dynamic, and there were opportunities at every turn. I was lucky enough to be able to work with so many diverse departments. I soon realized that managers were entrusted with Mr. Will’s blessing to go out and conquer. The ability to orchestrate new projects, implement systems, and feel proud of the work that I was doing made me want to invest in the farm.

We have 10 different species on the farm. Which is your favorite?
The guinea fowl. They are wild, uncontained and sneak into the garden all the time! Those birds are just fun to watch, they look as though they are launching an attack when they travel in herds and let out battle cries as they advance through the open pasture. I have been startled by those feisty birds more than once. In addition to their entertainment value, they are the most succulent and flavorful poultry that I have ever eaten. The complexity of their taste is unmatched in stocks, soups, sauces, grilling, and roasting. If you haven’t yet taken the leap, make sure you invite guinea to your next dinner party!

What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Being able to fully engage in a project. There are so many opportunities to team up with other departments in order to make the system more dynamic. We have been using the rabbits to “mow down” garden crops that we are finished harvesting and fertilize the land that they are grazing. We have also introduced a set of piglets to the garden that act as four legged tractors. They till, eat roots and debris, and break up the compaction. Using animals as tools for change has really altered the way I view farming.

What is your favorite meal to cook at home?
Tacos, burritos, and carnitas with marinated steak, pulled/ground pork, and even Mediterranean style tacos stuffed with our lamb. My favorite farm fresh toppings include: vinegar cabbage slaw, onions, microgreens, radishes, pickled carrots, homemade chipotle garlic aioli (from our pastured eggs). We eat like kings on the farm. We have the freshest produce, and most scrumptious proteins. You cannot go wrong when you have all of this great food at your fingertips.

What has been your proudest moment since working here?
I have been blessed to work on a lot of diverse projects during my time here and each one had its pinnacle.  Whenever something that I have directly had my hands on has been complimented or appreciated it really makes me proud of the work that I do. Two standout moments would be our first retail account for leather goods, and the first successful batch of biodiesel. Most recently, I have been delighted with the experimental hay pile garden. That patch of pasture is teeming with life above and below the surface, with so many plant species, beneficial insects, and even beautiful displays of fungal fruiting bodies. I am really proud of the habitat that is forming, and the things that it is teaching me.

What are you most looking forward to for the Fall season?
I am most looking forward to our annual CSA dinner (stay tuned for details!). This will be our third season hosting a dinner for our members. Last year was uniquely special; the full menu was crafted and prepared by the very same staff that plants, harvests and packs our CSA shares. Our members had the chance to spend time on the farm, see the full the process, and connect with their growers and farmers. This dinner gets to the heart of the CSA philosophy, connecting eaters with their farmers.

There’s still time to sign up for our Fall CSA at a prorated rate! Click here for details.

Categories: CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Staff Spotlight | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Land, livestock, and the pursuit of a new logo

 

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Selling premium, value-added meat and poultry to consumers requires a good amount of marketing, which is not something that comes naturally to us here at White Oak Pastures. Fonts, color schemes, photos and logo designs weren’t handed down from previous generations like land stewardship and livestock husbandry. But, as we’ve done with so many changes during our rapid growth, we adapted to and embraced this new component: logo design.

In the early 2000s, one of our first tasks in building a marketing platform was to pick a name for our website. For a century, what we all know as White Oak Pastures was actually called Tenac Oak Pastures. Will Harris received great advice from a neighbor: “Don’t call your farm something people can’t easily spell. Do you want to spend the rest of your life spelling the word Tenac?” Tenac Oak is the local name for White Oak. But, since Tenac isn’t in most everyone’s normal vocabulary, Will decided that White Oak Pastures would be an equally appropriate name. Our farm is three miles from the Kolomoki Indian Mounds, and Kolomoki translates to “Land of the White Oak.” The rest is history!

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The second task was to pick a logo. Back in the early 2000s, the only product we had to market was grassfed beef. Thankfully, our logo didn’t turn out to be a cow, since today we raise 10 species of animals. Instead, we reflected on the true definition of the word brand: “an identifying mark burned on livestock with a branding iron.” For generations, the Harris family branded our cattle with the same “circle-H” that you see in the logo today, which stands for the “H” in Harris. In an effort to reduce infliction of pain on our animals, we stopped branding them more than 30 years ago. But what better way to brand our products than with the same mark that previous generations used to differentiate our live animals from those of our neighbors?

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Our old logo, early 2000s to 2016

Back then, we decided to make the Harris “H” the main component of our farm logo. We proudly used that logo during the last busy 10 years of business. Today, in our 150th year, we raise 10 different species of animals, market all of these to passionate customers, grow vegetables, tan hides, compost, house overnight guests, and many other things, and the “H” family brand still communicates all of this to the world.

However, over the last 10 years, we found that we were constantly explaining the connection between the “circle-H” and the words “White Oak Pastures.” It seemed folks struggled with the correlation, and we couldn’t really blame them. Knowing that we needed some guidance, we hired Egg Branding to help us consolidate our message. After months of discussion, we are excited to reveal our new logo (top of this page), which still proudly includes the “circle-H” while putting more emphasis on the amazing “organism” (as Will calls it) that is White Oak Pastures. What would our brand be without the history of who we are and where we came from? We hope you like our new look, and the hard work and dedication it represents.

Join us October 15th to celebrate 150 years of building the White Oak Pastures brand and culture. Click here for event details.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community | Tags: | Leave a comment

White Oak Pastures: Nose-to-tail, farm-to-door

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We believe our farm is one-of-a-kind. We’re fiercely proud of our vertically integrated system, which allows us to raise animals on pasture, slaughter and butcher them in our USDA-inspected on-farm abattoir, and ship them directly to the well-informed consumers who want to support this type of agriculture.

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Jenni Harris, with a lot of help from our Comptroller, Jean Turn, began to focus on the potential of our online store in 2014 to share White Oak Pastures products with people who aren’t close enough to shop in person. We are able to reach a broad base of customers who have made the decision to put a high priority on the source of the food they eat, so we can sell every part of our 10 species of animals from the nose to the tail. Today, we ship hundreds of packages weekly through the mail. Here’s how it works:

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Sabrina Carnley runs the front of the shop, receiving online orders and working with our internet fulfillment crew to get them filled. She’s also your go-to for questions about everything from shipping to how to cook chicken feet.

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All orders are packed on our farm, not in some order fulfillment center in the middle of the country. Most of our products are frozen prior to being shipped, which ensures a safe temperature of the meat when it arrives at your home. Your box will contain a cooler packed with dry ice to keep your products cold.

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Between managing the South Georgia heat and the sub-zero freezer temperatures, these guys are responsible for keeping perishable product in good condition. Justin Chaddick (right) oversees frozen inventory, packing, and shipping. LJ Richardson (left) and Deion Wallace (middle) put the orders together and pack them up. We ship throughout the 48 contiguous states, to any address where UPS will deliver.

Shop online and keep these good folks busy! For more details on our online store and shipping process, see the list of frequently asked questions on our website.

Categories: Staff Spotlight | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The secrets of the ancient Kolomoki Mounds

The Kolomoki Mounds site is the largest and oldest tribal mound complex east of the Mississippi. Located just west of White Oak Pastures outside Bluffton, Georgia, these eight mounds were hand-built by some of the earliest inhabitants of the area, the Swift Creek and Weeden Island cultures. Building these mounds was a monumental task, toting dirt one basketful at a time. The largest mound, the size of a football field at the base and 56 ft high, required more than two million basket loads of soil.

These early hunter-gatherers had to have been very prosperous to be able to engage in an extravagant extraneous activity like mound-building, and the reason this was possible is the high productivity of the land.

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There’s something special in this little strip of land right through here that’s about 15 miles long and just a few hundred yards wide. We call it the Bluffton Ridge, and it’s the area where the Appalachian Mountains have gone underground and project like a finger under the coastal plains weather pattern.

Generally, the land in the coastal plains is sandy and of poor quality. But in this ridge we’ve got uneroded, incredibly rich mountain soil. We’re also in a highly productive weather pattern, with optimal rainfall and temperatures. It’s the perfect storm of weather and geology, where plants and animals grow and produce really well.

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These tiny Appalachian rocks are treasure chests of minerals.

It’s interesting to note that the people of ancient Kolomoki built the mounds right next to this strip of land, but not on it. They knew this soil was special.

From 350-600 A.D., Kolomoki was the largest settlement north of Mexico. These early Native Americans were the first of many prosperous inhabitants who thrived on the rich soil of the Bluffton Ridge.

Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek Nation in 1814, and founded Bluffton in 1815. The Creeks inhabited Southeast Alabama, Southwest Georgia, and North Florida, but Jackson and the early Europeans chopped their way through the jungle with purpose, founding Bluffton before any other city in the region.

Before the industrialization of agriculture drove people away in the mid 1900s, Bluffton was a prosperous city, too. Will Harris’ grandmother attended Bluffton’s Pine Plains Boarding School for Girls, where she learned to paint oil on canvas and studied Emily Post etiquette during the era when girls weren’t commonly taught to even read or write. Bluffton had one of the first concrete swimming pools in the state back in 1920, called The Bluff. And in 1924, a successful initiative called the “Lord’s Acre” was featured in Time magazine, in which farmers in the Baptist Church congregation each donated one acre of production as a tithing. In the era of “40 acres and a mule,” most farms couldn’t afford to donate an acre of production, but because of that highly productive mountain ridge soil, it was possible in Bluffton.

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Kolomoki translates to “Land of the White Oaks,” and it is now our turn to care for this little strip of land. At White Oak Pastures, we’ve tapped into the richness of this soil to build one of the 17 accredited Savory Hubs around the world, and we proactively support nature’s food chain using only sun, soil, and rain to grow organic sweet grasses for our animals to eat. Regenerative agriculture is a core value of White Oak Pastures, for the sake of our animals, our environment, our community, and for those who will inhabit this land after we’re gone.

Categories: Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Day in the life of John Pedersen, Hog Manager, midwife to the sows

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Photo by Laura Mortelliti

It’s a farrowing affair and not for everyone. But it takes a talented, caring person to raise some of the smartest animals on the planet. Unlike factory hog production that confines sows in gestation and farrowing crates, we raise all of our pigs on pasture, completely unconfined. It isn’t easy or convenient, but it is the right thing to do. Our Hog Production Manager, John Pedersen, does a brilliant job caring for them, and we’re excited to introduce you to him on this week’s blog. Read on to get a glimpse into a day in the life of one of our favorite pastured pig farmers. 

Q: Why did you get into farming?
A: I started contemplating farming as a potential career about 7 years ago after my son Nicolaus came into this world. My food focus switched from a solely sustenance approach to a source of preventative healthcare and high nutrition for my family and me; we began searching for local farmers to provide us with the food we felt would be best. During the search for food and educating ourselves to the farming practices in our area we learned about regenerative farm practices that not only provided nutrient dense protein and vegetable sources but also was extremely respectful of the animals grown and the land/soil used to raise them, and I wanted to be part of it.

Q: What has been your proudest moment at work?
A: Being the “midwife” to the hogs (thank you for the new nickname…) brings with it many proud moments every time a new litter is born. Anyone who has had a child enter their life will be able to relate to this. Caring for a pregnant sow or gilt and then being there for that new litter of piglets is so satisfying.

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Photo by Angie Mosier

Q: What’s your favorite daily chore?
A: My favorite and most satisfying daily chore is checking on the piglets and mommas. They are on a specific diet that we daily feed utilizing five-gallon buckets and when they see the truck coming they dance and squeal and hop around like you would imagine a puppy would when seeing its owner after a long day away at the office. It’s precious!

Q: What is your favorite food in our on-farm dining Pavilion?
A: I have coined a new slogan for anyone dining at the Pavilion, “Support the Pork.” Every meal that Reid and his team prepare with pork quickly becomes my favorite. Support the Pork!

Q: If you could trade roles with someone on the farm for a day, who would it be and why?
A: All of the employees at White Oak Pastures have extremely diverse, rewarding and challenging roles. Each of us are passionate about our programs and we frequently work together. I miss working with cows and really enjoy working with our livestock manager John Benoit. He wears many hats and I couldn’t handle all of his responsibility, but I do have fun working with cows when I have the chance.

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Q: What’s the best, and worst, part of living in Bluffton, GA?
A: I grew up in very suburban/urban locations and enjoyed all that those places have to offer, most importantly, the diversity of restaurants which ironically is the best and worst part of living in Bluffton. We have the best restaurant right here on the farm but regrettably the only restaurant in Bluffton.

Q: What is your favorite meal to cook at home?
A: I love a good seared pork chop, salt and pepper only. The flavor that comes through on our pork is amazing and needs no amendments. Support the Pork!

Q: Choose one word to describe White Oak Pastures.
A: “Pioneering”

Shop our pastured pork online

Categories: Animal Welfare, Staff Spotlight | Tags: | 8 Comments

We’ve got balls at White Oak Pastures

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Castration of male animals is a common practice in the livestock industry. Said to reduce aggression, the practice likely came about with the confinement of cattle in crowded conditions where the animals aren’t free to roam and express natural instinctive behaviors. As Will Harris says, you just can’t keep a bunch of bulls in confinement; it’s like the worst prison movie you’ve ever seen.

For over 100 years, White Oak Pastures castrated everything on this farm that wasn’t named Harris. It’s one of the practices we did away with in our transition to a kinder, gentler agriculture, in an effort to reduce the infliction of pain on the animals. Global Animal Partnership, Animal Welfare Approved, and Certified Humane all have thick manuals that detail what good animal welfare looks like. To meet the highest standards in these programs, we don’t perform any physical alterations on our animals, including castration, dehorning, or branding.

While the term ”bully” comes from the behavior of bulls, we don’t have a problem with aggressive bulls out on open pasture. If a big bad bull wants to bully a little bull, the little guy can just keep on walking. He has more incentive to get away than the big bull does to pick on him, and he has enough space to do so.

Fried Grassfed Beef Testicles Recipe

Our cattle are humanely processed in our on-farm abattoir. When our mature bulls are slaughtered, we offer grassfed beef testicles to our customers as part of our commitment to ensuring no part of the animal goes to waste. Sometimes called “Rocky Mountain oysters” or “cowboy caviar,” these are a unique and novel nose-to-tail treat. They are typically served fried as an appetizer, and would be a great surprise for your dinner guests or as a culinary adventure for yourself or your family.

This Harris family testicle recipe has been passed down through many generations. We hope you’ll give it a try and let us know what you think!

Ingredients
1 pack White Oak Pastures grassfed beef testicles
2 eggs
1 cup flour
Your choice of oil, for frying
Dash of salt and pepper
2 tbsp milk (optional)
Small handful of parsley for garnish (optional)
Ketchup or cocktail sauce for dipping

Preparation
Whisk eggs in a large bowl with milk, and in a separate large bowl season the flour with salt and pepper. Parboil the testicles in boiling water with a splash of salt for 1-2 minutes. Allow to cool. Peel the outer membrane from the testicles, and slice the testicles into medallions. Dip medallions in flour, then the egg mixture, then the flour again. Repeat this step for a thicker breading. Fry medallions in hot oil for several minutes, until crispy and brown. Remove from pan and allow to drain on paper towels.

Fried Bull Testis

Photo by Laura Mortelliti

Categories: Animal Welfare, Kitchen | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Creating a bee-friendly environment (it’s easier than you think!)

 

Bees are responsible for a lot more than just producing that sweet golden honey we love. Did you know that on average, we rely on bees to pollinate every third bite of food we eat?

This is one of the fascinating facts our beekeepers shared at our recent beekeeping workshop here on the farm. We welcomed folks from all over Georgia, as well as Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, to learn about honey bee biology and behavior, hive maintenance, honey harvesting, and the crucial ecological role bees play.

It’s important to do what we can to promote pollinator well-being. Whether honey bees, flies, wasps, beetles, or butterflies, we depend on insect pollinators for much of our food and our health. In case you missed our workshop, here are some tips from our organic garden crew on how we can all help bees by creating a bee-friendly environment in our own backyards.

  1. Let areas of your property lie fallow. This will encourage the growth of natural grasses and wildflowers, and provide habitat and food for pollinators.
  2. Plant flowers that are good sources of nutrition for honeybees. Fragrant herbs are a favorite. You can find lists of plants native to the Southeast that encourage pollinator habitat here and here.
  3. Plant a fruit and vegetable garden. Growing your own food will let you appreciate the work pollinators do, and will provide them with a variety to choose from.
  4. Don’t use pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Even organic pesticides can be harmful to bees. When buying plants to put out in your garden, make sure they haven’t been treated with pesticides, either. If spraying is a must, do so at times when bees are not out foraging and when flowers are closed (late evening is best).
  5. Provide a water source, whether a pond or a puddle, where thirsty bees can fill up. Just watch out for mosquitoes!
  6. Encourage native mason bees by building them a bee house for cover and a place to raise their young.
  7. Lawns that are highly managed and manicured do virtually nothing for pollinators. Jazz up your lawn with some low-growing wildflowers such as dandelion and white clover to make it a bee hotspot.
Categories: Regenerative Land Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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