Regenerative Land Management

WOP on the NYT Magazine Cover

image.png

This beautiful New York Times cover was created by photographer Dan Winters and the above image by Wyatt Williams

 

If you know about White Oak Pastures, then you have probably heard about our “Bald Eagle Situation”. Whether you’re familiar with the story or not, you should read the excellent piece by our friend Wyatt Williams whose article was featured on the cover of the New York Times: “When The National Bird Is A Burden“. He speaks with insight on the unnatural predicament of the 70+ bald eagles living on the farm due to our pastured poultry, and also draws attention to the ongoing conversation (and frustrations) with the Farm Service Agency on our eligibility for the USDA Livestock Indemnity Program, which helps farmers who suffer loss due to a protected species.

 

 

white-oak-pastures-bald-eagles-123.jpgwhite-oak-pastures-bald-eagles-105.jpgwhite-oak-pastures-bald-eagles-81.jpgCharles_Lohmeyer6.jpgwhite-oak-pastures-bald-eagles-10.jpgLeslie_Johnson10.jpgLeslie_Johnson8.jpg

Charles_Lohmeyer46.jpg

Categories: Regenerative Land Management | Leave a comment

Our Year In Review

“We pray for plenty of good hard work to do, and the strength to do it.” 

This is the saying written in our dining pavilion over the serving window. It is our farm’s unofficial motto, a prayer Will remembers from his youth.

We had many milestones in 2016. We are proud of our accomplishments and grateful for our blessings. Below, our managers share a list of notable milestones.

1.) Welcome Baby Jack!

Jack Carter Harris was born December 7, 2016 to Jenni and Amber Harris, starting the 6th Harris generation born on the farm. This healthy baby boy has already brought so much joy to the farm family. We look forward to his generation inheriting White Oak Pastures as a farm who’s soil and community has been enriched and regenerated due to our farming practices.

untitled shoot-5258-2.jpg

untitled-shoot-5277-2
2.) Grand Opening of the White Oak Pastures General Store 

It truly took our whole community to refurbish and reopen Bluffton’s 19th century general store. We believe that regenerative agriculture has the power to restore rural communities. We see our store as a step towards revitalizing downtown Bluffton.

ribbon cutting! -7490.jpg

150th-7423.jpg
3.) 150th Birthday

This year marked our farm’s 150th Birthday, or, our Sesquicentennial. This little known word is hard to pronounce so we made a quick video of our brave employees giving it a try. We had an incredible turn out for our 150th Birthday Celebration with the Bo Henry Band on October 15, 2016.

150th-7878.jpg

untitled shoot-07.jpg
4.) Internship/ Apprenticeship Program Initiated 

Our official Internship/ Apprenticeship Program completed its first successful year. White Oak Pastures offers our interns a unique farm experience in scale and vertical integration while simultaneously providing an idea-incubating space for young people interested in regenerative agriculture.

9_3_16_Intern_farewell_dinner (6 of 28).jpg9_3_16_Intern_farewell_dinner (11 of 28).jpg

9_3_16_intern_farewell_dinner-7-of-28
5.) Second Annual 5K Ruff Run

Regenerative agriculture focuses on the health of the soil, the health of the animals, and the health of the people who perpetuate this system. Many of our customers, partners and employees support us because they prioritize health. What better way to honor our regenerative community than through a fun event focused on healthy bodies? Our Second Annual 5K Ruff Run was a great success this spring.

1.jpg


6.) Land Purchases

This year we purchased increments of 250 acres, 120 acres and 60 acres. We are excited to incorporate this land into our organic, holistic system. We look forward to using animal impact and holistic management to revive this land which was previously farmed industrially.

Heifer_Sunrise_8_30_2016-1684.jpg

thankgivingturkeys-8985.jpgDSC_7027.jpg

 

7.) Internet Fulfillment Center Development 

At the start of the year, the Internet Fulfillment Center (IFC) was operating out of the poultry plant. With our internet business quickly growing, the need for a larger facility became apparent. Therefore, we moved our IFC to its own building with nearly 2000 square feet of freezer space and its own shipping dock.

img_3242.jpg

When we moved the IFC, we hit the ground running. We were filling all of the online orders while transitioning our entire inventory and implementing a new organization system all at the same time. It was a wild first couple of months, but by Thanksgiving we had a clean running machine and filled several hundred turkey orders in about three days. We are now working to fully digitize our inventory management paperwork and looking forward to a great year in 2017.

img_3207.jpg

 

8.) Iberian Hogs

This year saw our first successful breeding of Iberian hogs on White Oak Pastures land and our first Iberians to reached slaughter weight. Our Iberian hogs are some of the first Iberians ever born and raised outside of the Iberian peninsula. We have about 200 Iberians now.

DSC_3729.jpg
DSC_5562.jpg
DSC_5569.jpg

9.) Conversion of Garden to Pig Paddocks

We converted the land on which our organic garden used to be located into pig paddocks. Here, we are experimenting with forage cover crops to reduce the amount of feed we have to buy in from off farm. The cover crops also allow us to further increase soil organic matter, reduce soil compaction and promote a thriving microbial and fungal community in our soil. Our pigs also love the lush forage.

untitled shoot-0846.jpg

untitled shoot-0911.jpg

untitled shoot-0926.jpg

 

10.) Hide Barn Construction 

Our new hide barn is well under way in construction. In September 2016, we received a Local Producer Loan from Whole Foods Market to build a new facility for our pet chews. 2016 saw us break ground and make great strides towards finishing this important building. Folks are more and more cautious about what they feed themselves and their pets and the demand for all natural, grass-fed pet chews has grown immensely.

HermanBassStoreRenovation-3195.jpg

We began making hand-crafted rawhide pet chews on the farm in 2013 and at that time we were utilizing about 8 cattle hides each week. Due to customer demand, our department has grown immensely. Today we turn about 30 hides from fresh to sun-dried each week. Our goal is to quickly double that number once we move into the new facility.

DSC_0616.jpgThe hide barn building is conveniently located across from our General Store in Bluffton and will also include our tallow and leather departments, as well as a nice space to display our cowhide rugs.

Our building will include our leather workshop where we will make all our leather goods such as bags, bracelets, dog collars, etc. We hope our farm visitors will stop by to explore the new building and even bring along their pets!  This will be a cozy, crafty and comfortable space to hang out and even make your own bracelet. Visitors can watch the tallow soap, candle, or lip balm creation processes as well.

untitled shoot-1588.jpg
DSC_0781.jpg

As Mr. Will said, “2016 was the best year of my life and I have had a pretty long and damn good ride”.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community, Zero-Waste | 2 Comments

Employee Spotlight: Small Ruminant Manager Matthew Cantrell

It’s lambing season here at White Oak Pastures. Our pastures and woods are speckled with 200-300 tiny newborn lambs tailing their mammas as they learn about being  pasture-raised sheep. Behind the scenes is our Small Ruminant Manager Matthew Cantrell.

untitled-5083

Matthew grew up in California ranch country and was always involved in the farming lifestyle. Prior to his career at White Oak Pastures, Matthew managed a diversified farm in South Carolina and prior to that, he was an English teacher. However, farming and nature pulled him out of the poetry classroom and back into the fields.

 There is also a poetry in farming. If one spends the day watching Matthew work our sheep and goats with his herding dogs, this is readily apparent. “Farming connects me to what’s reality- what’s really important,” Matthew says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else even though it’s incredibly hard sometimes”. Matthew manages 1500 animals: about 1000 sheep and 500 goats. He has an intellectual, respectful relationship with his herd. He makes sure the “innate value” of the animals is respected and that they are “treated with dignity”.  Matthew works long hours to make sure his animals are happy and healthy and feels that “their value is not relative to human need for them- their value has to be honored as much as I’m able”.

untitled-3973

Farming has always been conducive to family involvement. Matthew’s family occasionally joins him in shepherding. He is a dedicated father and husband. His four children (ages 12, 10, 6 and 4) are all home schooled. Matthew views shepherding as a unique opportunity to raise his children with an “intimate experience and understanding of real life, real things- dirt, plants, animals, life and death”. Matthew and his wife Leah take pride in their farm lifestyle which allows them to live morally and with intention. His oldest daughter, Hannah (12), helps nurse orphaned or sick lambs back to health. Matthew jokingly calls Hannah the “small ruminant neonatal specialist”.

untitled-3995

Matthew works by himself most of the time and relies heavily on his three herding dogs: Pancho, a Border Collie, and Oakley and Annie, Working Kelpies. Both breeds trace their lineage to farm collies in Northern England and thus have similar working styles which compliment each other. “I rely on them every day. They’re incredible. They’re my best friends. I couldn’t do what I do without them”. Matthew views herding dogs as a more natural way to move livestock. There is an instinctual relationship between herding dogs and ruminants which usually precipitates a calmer response. Herding dogs also “rate stock”, i.e., anticipate what the ruminants will do which helps the shepherd move sheep in a low-stress, efficient manner.  

As a shepherd, Matthew works to foster responsible natural resources management while caring for the welfare and nutritional needs of our flock. He is also constantly working long-term to develop a resilient flock which will naturally thrive in the environment of our farm.

untitled-3822-2

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Staff Spotlight, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Ignite the Consumer Revolution for Regenerative Agriculture

As one of 17 accredited Savory Global Network Hubs around the world, our goal is to help build awareness for the importance of holistic land and animal management practices that create environmental, economic and social benefits. We are inspired by the growing movement comprised of farmers and ranchers who are regenerating their soils, watersheds, wildlife habitats and human communities by practicing Holistic Management.

However, the story doesn’t end there. Consumers need better access to products grown regeneratively. Farmers and ranchers need more opportunities to sell their products in a way that recognizes their dedication to regenerating the environments we all depend upon. And bold brands that are striving to make real change in the marketplace need access to the raw materials that will enable them to deliver environmentally beneficial products everyone can feel proud of.

We hope to help ignite a consumer revolution that demands good stewardship of our lands and proper management of livestock worldwide. Please join us for the 2017 Eat It, Wear It, Regenerate It conference taking place in late October and early November, and be part of a movement that is supporting regenerative agriculture globally. We have incredibly innovative opportunities for you engage with this Consumer Revolution. Whether you can make it to the intimate VIP event in Boulder, to your local Hub, or participate digitally, there are options for everyone to join the conversation.

For our friends here in the Southeast, we’d love for you to join us for our local Hub event in Atlanta on November 4th. Will Harris will host the Southeastern premiere of the Savory Institute’s world broadcast and has put together a team of top chefs to put the “dinner” in our dinner and a movie evening. Each chef will highlight a protein from White Oak Pastures for guests to enjoy while mingling, learning more about our farm’s regenerative farming methods, and viewing the four short films. The event takes place from 6 – 8 p.m. at The Shed at Ponce City Market. Tickets, which include food and two drinks, are $35 and may be purchased online.

Wise food choices will have a great impact in how many acres of land go from unsustainable production practices to those that are regenerative. With your insight and dialogue you can help us craft a better future for all.

Photos by Laura Mortelliti.

Categories: Regenerative Land Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Debunking the “feed the world” myth

will-harris

The topic of “feeding the world” is hotly debated.

Industrialized agriculture interests argue that factory farming is the only way to feed our growing world population. This mantra is used to justify destructive and inhumane practices that make food artificially cheap and wastefully abundant.

We believe that every country has a right to develop their own food production system. We don’t believe that we American farmers and ranchers are supposed to feed the entire world; we think we’re supposed to feed our community. That being said, we’re very happy to take this opportunity to explain our perspective on this issue.

Before having that discussion, we all need to stipulate that the earth has a limited carrying capacity, meaning there are not infinite resources available on this planet to produce food and sustain life for an unlimited population.

If the acreage that is available to farm is the only limiting factor, industrialized agriculture wins. By using artificial crutches developed by reductionist science, factory farms can produce more food per acre of land than regenerative farms can.

If petroleum is the limiting factor for feeding the world, we win, because we don’t use as much as they do. If global warming is the limiting factor, we win. We don’t produce as many greenhouse gasses as they do. If antibiotic-resistant pathogens are the limiting factor, we win. If topsoil loss, endangering wildlife species, increasing dead areas in the seas, pesticide contamination, diminished resources, water shortage and contamination, and a host of other disasters are the limiting factor, we win. These problems have only been with us since agriculture became industrialized.

Factory farming truly made food abundant and cheap. It is more efficient and productive per acre of land, if that is the only consideration. But it has horrific unintended consequences for our animals, our natural resources, and the economy of rural America.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community | 11 Comments

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

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

Land, livestock, and the pursuit of a new logo

 

imageedit_48_2978827454

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!

willbrandingiron-2

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?

WOP logo early 2000s

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

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.

DSC_0007

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.

DSC_0002

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.

WOP cattle

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

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

Blog at WordPress.com.