Life on the Farm: Q&A with Will Harris

will harris

1. Do you remember your first day “taking over” the farm? Can you describe it for us?
EXCEPT FOR MY 4 YEARS AT COLLEGE, I HAVE LIVED AND WORKED ON THIS FARM ALL OF MY LIFE.  I HAVE NEVER WANTED TO DO ANYTHING EXCEPT RUN THIS FARM.  I MAJORED IN ANIMAL SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA IN PREPARATION FOR DOING THIS.

WHEN I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE, I EXPECTED MY FATHER TO GO AND SIT ON THE PORCH SO THAT I COULD RUN THE FARM.  HE HAD A VERY DIFFERENT IDEA.

HE WAS AN ONLY CHILD, AND I WAS AN ONLY CHILD.  EITHER OF THESE WAS PRETTY UNUSUAL FOR OUR GENERATIONS.  IT WAS UNHEARD OF THE STACK THEM.

WE WERE LIKE TWO BROTHERS, FATHER & SON, BUSINESS PARTNERS, AND BEST FRIENDS.  WE COULD HUNT & FISH TOGETHER, EAT & DRINK TOGETHER, BUT WE COULD NOT WORK TOGETHER.  HE WAS THE ORDAINED KING, AND I HAD OPINIONS THAT I JUST COULD NOT KEEP TO MYSELF.  WE PISSED EACH OTHER OFF.  IT WAS BAD.

HE WAS TOO SMART TO LET US LIVE IN A COMBATIVE SITUATION. HE AVOIDED THIS BY MAKING ME GET AN OFF FARM JOB IMMEDIATELY AFTER GRADUATION.  I BECAME THE REGIONAL MANAGER OF A FARMER COOPERATIVE.  WE RAN COTTON GINS, PEANUT MILLS, FERTILIZER BLENDERS, AND GRAIN ELEVATORS.  IT WAS GREAT EXPERIENCE FOR ME AND I COULD NOT HAVE DONE THE THINGS, IN THE MANAGEMENT OF THIS FARM, THAT I HAVE DONE IF I HAD NOT HAD THIS EXPERIENCE FORCED ON ME.

BUT… I ALWAYS LIVED ON THIS FARM, AND WAS ALWAYS VERY INVOLVED IN WORKING ON THE FARM.  I WORKED 40 HOURS EACH WEEK FOR THE CO-OP, AND OVER 40 HOURS MORE EACH WEEK ON THE FARM.  I ONCE COMPLAINED ABOUT HOW I WORKED ALL OF THE TIME.  DADDY SAID “YOU DON’T WORK BUT HALF OF THE TIME”.  HE MEANT 12 HOURS OF THE DAY, 7 DAYS PER WEEK.  HE SAID THAT IF A MAN WANTS TO “ACCUMULATE SOMETHING” HE NEEDS TO WORK MORE THAN HALF OF THE TIME.

ONE HOT DAY, IN 1995, DADDY DROVE HIS PICK UP TO WHERE I WAS BUILDING A NEW FENCE IN THE PASTURE.  HE SAID “DO YOU WANT THEM DAMN COWS?”.  I SAID “HELL YES I WANT THEM DAMN COWS.  THAT IS WHY I’M BUILDING THIS DAMN FENCE”.  HE SAID “TAKE THEM”, AND HE DROVE OFF.  AND THE TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT WAS DONE.  WE HAD NEVER DISCUSSED ANY SORT OF TRANSFER BEFORE THIS AND, EXCEPT FOR THAT EXCHANGE, WE NEVER DID AFTER EITHER.

I KNOW THAT DADDY GAVE IT UP THAT DAY BECAUSE HE WAS BEGINNING TO FEEL THE FIRST SIGNS OF DEMENTIA.  HE NOR I NEVER ACKNOWLEDGED IT, BUT THAT WAS THE DEAL.  IT SLOWLY KILLED HIM OVER THE NEXT FIVE LONG AND SAD YEARS.

AFTER THAT DISCUSSION ON THAT HOT DAY, HE NEVER TOOK ANY SORT OF ACTIVE ROLE ON THE FARM.  NONE AT ALL.  IT WAS VERY TRAGIC THAT IT HAD TO BE THAT WAY.

2. On January 1, 2014, two of your daughters were officially back on the farm and White Oak Pastures employees. What was that day like for you?
THE BEST DAMN TIME OF MY LIFE.  THE STORY ABOVE WILL GIVE YOU INSIGHT AS TO WHY.

3. I just picked up my first batch of layers today. Although I feel responsible for the current layers in the pasture, I feel more bonded to, or just more responsible for the ones I got today. It’s the first ones I hope to raise from start to finish. How did you feel when you bought/slaughtered/sold your first cow?
YOU ARE EXPERIENCING THE STEWARDSHIP OF THESE CHICKS. STEWARDSHIP OF YOUR OWN LAND AND ANIMALS IS THE CLOSEST THAT PEOPLE CAN EVER COME TO FEELING THE COMPASSION OF GOD FOR HIS SUBJECTS.  MOST PEOPLE NEVER GET THAT.

4. What do you look forward to the most about retirement? Or do farmers every truly retire?
MY RETIREMENT WILL CONSIST OF GRADUALLY HANDING OFF DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES, UNTIL I HAVE NONE LEFT.  WHEN THERE ARE NONE LEFT, IF MY HEALTH IS GOOD, I WILL RIDE A HORSE AROUND THE FARM ALL DAY EVERY DAY.

 

If you have any questions for Will, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to get an answer for you!

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

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