Staff Spotlight

Meet Our Leather Crafter Alena Ivakhnenko


If you visit our General Store in Bluffton you’ll notice our leather workshop tucked in the back corner. Our leather crafter Alena works here daily and has hand-made almost every leather product on our shelves.  Alena grew up in the Ukraine and spent most of her childhood in her grandmother’s garden. There she developed a deep connection with agriculture and the natural world.


Once she realized it was possible to turn the outdoors into a career and a lifestyle, Alena began focusing on gaining experience and worked in Ching Animal Sanctuary, the Utah Conservation Corps and the Alaska Forest Service. She hopes to work her own farm in the future and also educate high school age teenagers about agricultural career options.


Alena applied to White Oak Pastures as an intern in the Garden Program. While working in the garden, Alena listened to the Farmer to Farmer podcast. This podcast highlighted the opportunity for value-added product creation in the farming off-season. Alena hopes to work with value-added products such as leather with her own farm and saw the White Oak Pastures leather crafting position as an opportunity to learn a life-long skill.


While Alena’s background in photography lent her a visual eye, she has never worked with her hands in a craft like this before. However, she applied her hard work ethic and artistic eye and grew the leather department immensely. Alena finds it very rewarding to “experience what goes in to developing and expanding a business”.

mortelliti_lowres-2179The most gratifying aspect of her job is the “appreciation from people who get the products I make with my own two hands”. Alena finds it “satisfying to see something that I made from start to finish that people are using”.

A difficult part of her job is performing repetitive tasks while still maintaining attention to detail. Working with hair-on leather is also very hard and she will occasionally get “hair splinters”.  Our leather is very thick and working with it can be quite time consuming. There is also a fair amount of problem solving regarding stitching and cutting since each hide is unique.


The goats and turkeys are Alena’s favorite White Oak Pastures farm animals. The goats are “silly and cute” and the turkeys are “super sweet and really intelligent birds”.

Customers often come in to our General Store and see Alena working in the leather shop. However, they do not automatically assume that the leather she’s crafting comes from our own cattle. Alena sees this as a symptom of our consumer society’s isolation from the product supply chain. She feels our leather department plays an important role in helping consumers reevaluate how they see the product supply chain. Alena feels strongly that a zero-waste approach to farming is important for the future of sustainable farms and how they think of revenue.



Categories: Rural Community, Staff Spotlight, Zero-Waste | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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.


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”.


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”.


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.


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

What’s in your Jeep, Will Harris?

We’ve all seen blogs or magazines featuring the contents of movie stars’ handbags, with sunglasses, lipsticks, and fancy electronics on display. Here at White Oak Pastures, we are similarly fascinated by what’s inside Will Harris’ Jeep. When you hop in to take a ride around the farm, you invariably have to clear away guns and knives, tools, and things Will collects from the woods in order to make room to sit down. In the spirit of a “What’s in your handbag?” article, Will was a good sport and let us go through his stuff and take photos of it to put on the internet.


Will’s Jeep is his toolbox. He has a rope because things need tying, a chain because things need pulling, a crowbar because things need prying apart… you get the picture. The hammer is Will’s key to every door (like the John Denver song), and he has a pair of gloves because there are a few things out there that are tougher than he is.


A golfer carries a bag full of different clubs for different shots. Will does the same with guns. He uses a shotgun to keep varmints away, and pistols to avoid arguments and end debates. Pictured is an Outback 12-gauge over and under shotgun, a Ruger 357 Magnum snake charmer, and a Ruger 357 Magnum debate winner.


The inscribed whip was made by the father of a former employee, a real Florida cowboy. The primary functionality was never to strike the animal; the loud crack that the lash makes has the desired effect of turning animals away so that they can be herded. Notebooks are for recording field observations of the animals and the land. The old bottles were collected in the woods around the pastures. Will says that he has never taken a dose of speed, but he cannot imagine that it is a stronger stimulant than a chew of Red Man. The corkscrew and the Yeti are companion items that receive daily usage.

Items photographed by Laura Mortelliti. Photo of Will by Angie Mosier.

Categories: Staff Spotlight | 5 Comments

Meet Mary, Queen of Brussels (Sprouts)


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: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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


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.


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:


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.


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.


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

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


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.


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.


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

Q&A with Lisa Brown, White Oak Pastures’ Poultry Plant Manager


We are excited to introduce you to a special member of the White Oak Pastures family, Lisa Brown. Lisa started working with us in 2012, when we were still beginning to learn the poultry business. She started out in the processing side of our on-farm poultry abattoir as a feather plucker, and then took the initiative to learn all aspects of the plant. Four years later, Lisa is our Poultry Plant Manager, leading the day-to-day operations and overseeing our 10 artisan butchers in our abattoir. We are proud to continue learning and growing together with Lisa.

Q: You carry a lot of responsibility, being the one to ensure our birds have a humane, dignified death. What does that mean to you?

A: Animal welfare is very important, so when it comes to processing the birds, we do it in a clean and organized order. We take pride in treating our animals with respect.

Q: What is the most satisfying part of your job?

A: At the end of the shift each day because I know we got the job done.

Q: What was your most embarrassing moment at work?

A: One day at work, I went to the dining Pavilion to get a cup of coffee while I was on my break. As I got my coffee, I began to walk back to my office, when all of a sudden I slid across some gravel rocks and couldn’t stop myself. I fell directly on my behind, but I still was holding onto my cup of coffee!

Q: What is your favorite meal to cook at home?

A: I love the pastured chicken breast and yellow rice. I marinate the chicken breast in some chicken broth. I let it sit overnight and the next day, then I take it out and bake it. I also boil my rice with butter.

Q: What is your favorite hobby outside of work?

A: Fishing with my family.

Q: Choose one word to describe White Oak Pastures.

A: Amazing

Categories: Staff Spotlight | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Dan Coady, nanomedical researcher to pastured poultry farmer

DSC_0048For six years, Dan Coady conducted research for a multinational technology corporation in California, until one day he decided to move to rural southwest Georgia to become a farmer. Today he leads the country’s largest pastured poultry operation, and we are lucky to have him.

Dan had found quite a bit of success as a scientist. He developed nearly 100 patented scientific processes and won the American Chemical Society’s Young Investigator award. But he began to believe there was a more meaningful way for him to utilize his skill sets and spend his time, producing healthy food for his family and community. He fully agrees with the famous Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Dan left the nanomedical research field and moved with his wife and their two young daughters to Bluffton. Together with his White Oak Pastures team, Dan now raises 60,000 broiler chickens, 12,000 laying hens, 8,200 turkeys, 7,600 ducks, 6,000 guinea fowl and 3,000 geese entirely on pasture and processed here on the farm.

As White Oak Pastures’ Poultry Manager, Dan’s PhD in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and his experience in research and development come in handy more often than you might think. He sees the farm as a puzzle, with the many facets of production, processing, and marketing as the pieces. He describes the poultry operation as its own puzzle, and he uses creative problem solving to find the best ways to rotate the birds, provide housing, and increase feed conversion, all while working within nature’s perfect system.

The slower pace of the farm lifestyle suits the Coady family well, too. The kids love riding in tractors and eating in our on-farm dining Pavilion. Right now their favorite meal is Chef Reid’s pastured poultry special, of course: a chicken breast stuffed with spicy Italian turkey sausage. The Coady family believes they made the right decision when they moved from California to White Oak Pastures, and we couldn’t agree more.

Categories: Staff Spotlight | Tags: | 6 Comments

Flavor of Georgia: Chef Reid’s pastured chorizo sausage

This week, White Oak Pastures’ Chef Reid was a finalist in the 10th Annual Flavor of Georgia contest hosted by the University of Georgia. Our pastured Chorizo Sausage was showcased in the Meat & Seafood category, and made it to the top three of 12 contestants. Products were judged on flavor, texture, ingredient profile, and how well the products represent Georgia.

Chef Reid is a graduate of the famed Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Chicago. He joined the White Oak Pastures team almost three years ago, and continues to grow our on-farm dining Pavilion. It is Reid’s love and passion not just for food, but where it comes from, that inspires him to continually take pride in the way he prepares and preserves the season’s harvest.

We produce our Chorizo Sausage from pasture-raised hogs that freely roam our farm, rooting and wallowing in the mud, and never treated with steroids or antibiotics. Our hogs make wonderful pasture companions with our goats and sheep in our Serengeti Rotational Grazing Model.

At the event, we were honored to be among so many great farmers and food producers in the state. Even though we didn’t take home the top prize, we were thrilled to be a finalist showcasing the Flavor of Georgia. And, Chef Reid’s delicious Chorizo Sausage is the winner every day here on the farm!

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Craft revival: Jamie Bush turns animal byproducts into artisan goods

DSC_0876Jamie Bush joined the White Oak Pastures family in 2014. She has a lifelong passion for farming, having grown up raising horses and goats on her family farm in Waycross, GA. She came to White Oak Pastures to learn everything she could about large-scale regenerative farming that offers much more than just good, fair food.

Jamie has a vital role in our effort to tap into ancient traditions that respect animals, the environment, and human health. A few of her responsibilities on the farm include making candles, soap, lip balm, and gardener’s salve from our beef tallow, and making pet treats from parts of livestock that would otherwise go to waste, including poultry feet, heads, and necks; cattle trachea, esophagus, and penises; and the ears and noses of cattle and pigs. These items are part of our line of specialty products, and our commitment across the farm to follow a zero-waste model.

According to the United Nations, 22% of meat in the U.S. food supply chain is wasted. With nine billion animals slaughtered annually, that’s roughly two billion farm animals thrown away every year. A hero of ours, Dr. George Washington Carver, told us, “In Nature there is no waste.” We endeavor to run our farm by this standard, and our commitment to the animal is to utilize all of the parts.

Growing up as a girl, Jamie never thought, “I can’t wait to dehydrate duck heads and chicken feet, and weave bull penises together to make pet treats.” But when our Specialty Products Manager, Amber Reece, made the suggestion, Jamie was excited to give it a try. Jamie appreciates seeing our customers enjoy our tallow products, knowing that what goes on the body is just as important as what goes inside. She also loves watching dogs happily devour our pet treats. For her, it’s a powerful feeling to be part of a system that’s creating a net positive impact on the planet.

Our artisan goods are available for purchase on our website. Please contact for more information.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Staff Spotlight | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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