Zero-Waste

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Meet Our Leather Crafter Alena Ivakhnenko

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

We’re Into Leather

We’re into leather! The White Oak Pastures Leather Department was created to utilize our cowhides in a way that is continuous with our zero-waste protocol.

The journey of our cowhides to leather is a labor intensive one. Hides are removed by hand in our red meat abattoir, then there are three avenues for our hides once they are removed from the carcass. Hides are either A.) used by our leather department, B.) hand crafted on our farm into pet chews or C.) sold to a pretannery in Kentucky.

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We learned the hard way, but now, we only save cowhides during the winter months because this time of year is cool enough to preserve them. At the end of each day, the hides are transported to an on-farm barn where they are salted and stored. We create a hide-salt lasagna layering hide, salt, hide, salt. We use about 200 pounds of salt per hide. The hides are stored here for 4-6 weeks. After this, we shake the excess salt off the hides, fold them onto pallets and load them onto our trailer which we personally drive to a multi-generational family-owned tannery in Sebring, FL: Sebring Custom Tanning. About 6 months later, after the hides are tanned and ready for pick up, we make the drive back down to FL and bring them back to White Oak Pastures. We have a great relationship with the tannery and they do a wonderful job with our hair-on and hair-off cattle hides. The product returned to us is a Full Grain Leather, which means the suede and the top grain layers remain together to create a quality product and feel.

Our leather craftsman, Alena, is self-taught in the art of measuring, cutting, dying and sewing leather into beautiful finished products. We create patterns that we like and want to wear or carry, and in return, our customers appreciate these same patterns as well. Although we use the same design every time, each hide is different, and as such there are no two identical items in our store. The spine of each hide is thickest, this is where the sturdiest leather comes from. We use this section for our bigger bags (totes), coasters, mouse pads, belts, dog collars and keychains. The edges of the hide (the belly) are thinnest and most flexible and we use this section for our smaller bags, new cross-body bags, bracelets, earrings, and wallets.

Come see us in our newly opened White Oak Pastures General Store. In the far corner, tucked away, you’ll find our leather workshop.

With the holidays quickly approaching, keep in mind our leather products make great gifts and are available in our online store. Look forward to new patterns, color palates and craftsmanship in 2017!

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Categories: Zero-Waste | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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