Posts Tagged With: Will’s Wisdom

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

Unintended consequences: The resurgence of the bald eagle

All of us really revere the iconic North American predator species. We’ve got grizzly bears, timber wolves, cougars, and eagles. We name our sports teams and our Boy Scout troops after them, we see them on tee shirts, and they are all endangered or threatened.

We often hear that loss of habitat is the reason these predator species are endangered, but after causing a resurgence of bald eagles in southwest Georgia, Will Harris has another theory. 

Soon after we began raising pastured poultry, we started seeing bald eagles on the farm for the first time. The eagles ate dead chickens and thinned our flock of the weaker ones. By working with nature on our farm instead of against it, we had created an environment where not only our livestock thrives, but wildlife can thrive, too. In contrast, keeping food animals inside factories starves the wildlife that depends on it.

With few other food sources nearby and our pastured poultry operation growing, more and more bald eagles made White Oak Pastures their home. Eagles began aggressively killing large numbers of healthy chickens, and we could not keep up with the losses. Eagles are an isolationist species, and overpopulation leads to fighting, rapid spread of disease, and loss of the natural ability to hunt. The eagles became overpopulated to the point that we’ve enlisted Fish and Wildlife Services to work with us on deterring the eagles using non-lethal harassment methods, to return the population on our farm to a healthy number. 7 or 8 eagles on one farm is great, but 78 is too many.

We now believe part of the demise of the iconic predator species in our country is a function of confinement animal farming which doesn’t give nature a fair opportunity to do its job. We wonder how much of a resurgence of these threatened species we would see if more farmers let their food animals out of captivity and let Mother Nature’s natural selection process work.

(Photos by Backlight Photography)

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

Good news: We bought 250 acres of worthless land

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It takes more than time to restore Georgia’s soil to the way it was before industrial farming practices added chemical fertilizers and pesticides and removed the biodiversity and nutrients. It takes us buying the land in the first place. Well, check that box, to the tune of 250 acres.

Our little experiment in the de-industrialization of agriculture is becoming less little all the time.

So what are we going to do with that 250 acres of degraded soil? Exactly what we’ve done with our other 1,500 acres: repair and fertilize the soil using century-old methods and the Serengeti Grazing Model of an unconfined, natural rotation of livestock. We recently moved a small number of our cattle onto the land to eat hay. They will urinate and defecate to feed the soil, and their hooves will break apart and aerate the land, preparing it for the planting of warm-season perennial grasses.

It will take years of good animal-land management to rebuild this eroded soil, but it’s an investment we know is important to continuing our commitment to regenerative animal agriculture.

Not surprisingly, most of the arable land in south Georgia is under someone else’s control. Some of it is conventional farming, some of it is in hunting reserves or timber farming. But we buy when we can buy. We lease when we can lease. We’re on a mission and we just got 250 acres closer to our goal.

Categories: Regenerative Land Management | Tags: , , | 24 Comments

New kids on the farm

The business that we run is the most simple business in the world. We own land, and we own animals. We spend our days doing the right things for both. The animals breed, have young, they grow, we slaughter them, we sell the meat and poultry for money that we use to pay our expenses, and it all starts again. It is very simple, but it is also remarkably complex. There are a lot of moving parts.

Some of the great joys in our work are the birthing seasons. Goats kid, rabbits kindle, hogs farrow, sheep lamb, cattle calve, poultry hatch. This is part of a cycle of birth, growth, death, and decay. Everything we do here is in support of that cycle.

Each spring we welcome new goat kids to our herd as they are born in our pastures. Our Small Ruminants Manager, Matthew Cantrell, ensures that they live a peaceful, healthy life, caring for them and watching over them along with his dogs, Oakley and Pancho.

We are excited to have goats on our farm, as goat is the most consumed meat in the world. We believe that our customers who are currently buying our beef, lamb, poultry and rabbit will also like our goat.

Please enjoy our photo gallery of our mama goats and their new kids, in their nursery in our pastures. This is the way we believe animals should be born and raised.

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Life on the Farm: Q&A with Will Harris

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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

Life on the Farm: Words of Wisdom by Will Harris

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An article posted in the American Grassfed Association newsletter, that I thought you all may enjoy…

“At this time I feel compelled to talk about the market that we are operating in.  We are in uncharted territory with regard to the prices that our livestock is bringing.  I think that we all need to give some consideration to how we got to this point.  Here’s my take on this:…

Congratulations to all of us.  Today we are producing livestock in the most profitable period of time in anyone’s recollection.  This is great, and we are grateful…but it ain’t always going to be this way.

We must not lose sight of the fact that our current economic success is the result of the nation’s diminished supply of animal protein (primarily beef).  This diminished supply is a result of ruminant herd liquidation, which came about due to many years of unprofitable calf, lamb, and kid production.That is to say that our current year’s profits in the livestock business were bought and paid for by our prior year’s losses.  Mine and yours.

This cyclical supply & demand, profit & loss, is a function of the commodity beef business.  There is no protection from this cycle for producers who raise calves for ultimate sale to multi-national protein companies.  It is a way of life (and death).

AGA members have opted to exit this system.  We endeavor to raise our animals for sale to more sophisticated consumers.  These are consumers who have studied our nation’s meat and poultry production systems.  Many of these more informed consumers have made lifestyle changes regarding what they eat.  These consumers choose to pay a little more to buy meat and poultry that allows them to be raised in a manner that is more sustainable, humane and fair.

AGA members who have exited the commodity system pay a high price to get out.  Production, processing, and marketing meat and poultry from a non-commodity system is much more difficult, riskier and more expensive for the producer.  Producers can easily add value to their products and not be able to extract this added value from the marketplace.  It ain’t easy.  In fact, it is damned hard.  In fact, it is the hardest damned thing that I have ever done in my life.

AGA members who have exited this system face hardship from many fronts:  National livestock organizations vehemently oppose mandatory country-of-origin labeling that helps prevent the importation of “grassfed” beef without the knowledge of consumers.  Multi-national protein companies brilliantly word smith, green wash, and trick label their products to hopelessly confuse consumers.  Government bureaucracies heavy handedly impose regulations that are not applicable to small operations.  This list goes on and on…

These difficulties are part of what makes me proud to be part of the American Grassfed Association.  This grassroots (no pun intended) organization is one of the few places where like-minded producers can unite in an effort to understand the forces that stand in the way of our journey to gain a sustainable, humane, and fair livestock production system.”

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community, Staff Spotlight | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Life on the Farm: New York Times!

Hey everyone! Can you believe we made it onto the front page of the food section in THE NEW YORK TIMES? We are so excited to be included and we’re all still on cloud 9! What an honor! It was lots of fun having the writer, Kim Severson, down on the farm with us. If you haven’t already, please check it out:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/11/dining/at-white-oak-pastures-grass-fed-beef-is-only-the-beginning.html?_r=0

Thank you all for your continued dedication, loyalty and support of our farming practices. We can’t continue to do what we love without you. If we could sit down with each of you face-to-face to say “thank you,” we would.

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