We take care of the land, and the herd, and they take care of us. ~ Harris Family Core Value
When last we left our story, Shana and I had just enjoyed an amazing quiche breakfast from the incomparable Chad Hunter. We bid our several hundred breakfast guests adieu, and prepared for our day on the farm. We dressed as Jenni suggested in things we could get dirty!
We met Jenni at 9am ready for our second day of adventures. She of course had been up and at ’em around 4am. Bless her heart for giving us a few extra hours in the warm, comfortable cabin beds.
The History of White Oak Pastures
Our day began with Jenni and Chad telling us the incredible history and background of the farm.
Captain James Edward Harris founded our family farm soon after the Civil War. He and the sharecroppers who worked this land butchered a cow, several hogs, and a few chickens every Saturday. This was the staple food of the 100 or so people who lived on this farm during the late 1800’s.
In the early part of the 20th century, James’ son, Will Carter Harris took over the farm.
After World War II, Will Bell Harris ran the farm. It was during his watch that the traditional system of producing and distributing beef, lamb, and poultry eroded. Science introduced a bevy of new chemical tools to the farm, and the slaughtering process became more and more centralized and distant from our pastures. During the latter half of the 20th century our farm only produced calves for the industrial beef production system that furnishes most of the food we eat in this country.
Our farm and family have now come full circle. Today we raise several species of livestock. We process the animals on the farm, and market the beef, lamb, poultry, rabbits, eggs and vegetables directly to consumers who appreciate our artisan products.
The transition started in 1995 when Will Harris III made the conscious decision to return to a production system that is better for the environment, for our animals, and for the people who eat these meats. He re-instituted the multi-species rotational grazing practices of his forefathers, and he built abattoirs on the farm to slaughter our animals.
…Jenni and Jodi mark the fifth generation of Harrises to raise livestock in on this farm. Today, White Oak Pastures employs over 100 people and produces grassfed beef and lamb, pastured poultry, pastured eggs and Certified Organic vegetables.
You can read the complete history of White Oaks Pastures here. http://www.whiteoakpastures.com/content/our-tradition.asp
After learning about the history of White Oak, we toured the store located on site where they sell gift items as well as foods and other items they make on the farm. You can find souvenirs such as t-shirts, caps, soaps, and dog treats along with jams, jellies, pickles, honey, beef jerky and preserves. Of course you can also purchase your meats from the farm such as artisan sausage in delicious flavors, beef, chicken, pork, rabbit, organic vegetables and more. We left with an entire cooler of goodies!
Shana easily made friends with the pups that call the farm home.
We both thoroughly enjoyed meeting these guys…they are just a bundle of nerves! 😉
After saying goodbye to the pups and store workers, we began our tour with Chad.
The Farm Tour
Shana and I decided that to get the complete experience we would view the “kill floor”. This was completely optional, and our choice. Although we weren’t allowed photos, and understandably so as the values of the farm would indicate, I can assure you with no uncertainty, this was the most humane and ethical process I could have imagined.
We are the only farm in the United States that has both red meat and white meat abattoirs on the property. There is only one other cattle farm in the country that has a USDA-inspected on-farm processing facility, located in California. We have the only on-farm poultry processing facility in the states of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The uniqueness of these two enormous investments demonstrates our family’s commitment to our program. We have chosen to walk the walk.
Our processing plants and systems were designed by Dr. Temple Grandin, the internationally recognized authority on humane animal handling and slaughter. She is a Doctor of Animal Science and champion of animal welfare. Our facilities are designed to keep our animals as calm as possible. The animals are held in open pens until they are dispatched. The captive bolt is administered by a trained employee and renders the animal senseless to prevent suffering. This procedure is performed by hand, one at the time, and the process is taken very seriously. We only slaughter 35 head of cattle per day and 1,000 chickens per day. An industrial processing plant may slaughter over 6,000 cattle per day, or 200,000 chickens per day. Our plants are not efficient, they are humane.
Next was learning how chickens and poultry are processed. White Oaks Pastures raises several varieties of poultry including chicken, ducks, geese and guinea fowl. When meshed together they can make a really incredible meatball! I digress. We shall chat about the meatball soon.
Both of our plants are zero-waste operations. All blood is digested to make liquid organic fertilizer, all bones are ground to make bone meal, and all eviscerate is composted. All of these organic fertilizers are used as soil amendments for our Certified Organic pastures.
The plants are powered by our 50,000 watt solar voltaic array. We also use solar thermal technology to heat our wash down water.
White Oak Pastures reuses waste water through irrigation, which is possible using our Land Application Permit monitored through the EPD.
The well-being of our workers is a major priority for us, as well. White Oak Pastures employees work on non-mechanized lines, which is safer and healthier than the rushed, automated assembly lines of high-volume slaughterhouses. The workers on both the kill floor and in the cutting room are artisans trained in several skills. We also encourage our employees to take home fresh produce from our organic farm to share with their families. We have ten families that have more than one family member working at White Oak Pastures.
White Oak Pastures’ chickens are Certified Humane®, Step 5+ rated by the Global Animal Partnership, and the processing abattoirs are Animal Welfare Approved. White Oak Pastures’ grassfed beef is Animal Welfare Approved, Step 4 in the Global Animal Partnership, and Certified Grassfed by the American Grassfed Association
Next we went to the egg house. It’s amazing all of the tests and factors that go into determining which eggs will make it to your family’s table.
The ones that don’t make the cut are set aside and put to other uses around the farm.
The best of the best are packaged and ready to use!
Our next stop was the bunny hutch!
New hutches were being built for the rabbits raised on the farm.
So cute! ….SO DELICIOUS!!!
Next on the agenda was a favorite for both Shana and I. If you haven’t had an opportunity to taste raw honey straight from the hive, you are missing one of the best experiences the food world has to offer. It was completely indescribable.
Of course Shana had to get into the action. Yes, there are REAL honey bees on that board!
Chad couldn’t resist either! Strike a pose Chad!
Then came the very best part…
Sticky, sweet and OH so MMMMMMM!!!!!! This honey is for sale in their farm store. Yes, several jars came home with me. Yes, they are gone and I need more STAT!
With so many workers on the farm, housing can be an issue in Bluffton. White Oak Pastures found a way to house workers on the farm! How COOL is this??
Walking back to the store, we were able to visit the organic gardens blooming with vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Starting in 2009, White Oak Pastures decided to close the circle by planting a small-scale organic farm on the property.
Today, Ryan Carnley, our Organic Farm Manager and Mary Bruce, Assistant Farm Manager, tend to the farm full-time. In 2011, we cultivated 5+ acres in addition to a half-acre heirloom fruit and nut orchard. Of the 5+ acres, 80 percent will include more than 40 different kinds of vegetables, all planted and harvested by hand. We manage a 200 share CSA, with drops in three states, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, along with a wholesale boxed vegetable program with chefs and grocers.
All of the fertilizer is compost which was produced on the farm. White Oak Pastures does not use pesticides, GMO’s, or synthetic fertilizers. Tractors are run from Biodeisel that is made from cooking grease and tallow from our On-Farm Dining Pavilion.
After our walking tour with Chad was over, we met Jenni back at the store for a driving tour of other parts of the farm. The pups were so excited to see us lol 🙂
Today, we are raising cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry and rabbits using the same methods Will’s great-grandfather used a century-and-a-half ago. We proactively support nature’s food chain, using only sun, soil, and rain to grow organic sweet grasses for our animals to eat. Practicing the Serengeti Grazing Model, we rotate complimentary animal species side-by-side through our pastures. The cows graze the grass, the sheep and goats eat the weeds, and the chickens peck at the grubs and insects. All species naturally fertilize the land, and our soil is again a living organic medium that teems with life.
Raising animals this way is not the cheapest method. Our way is, however, the right way for the sake of our animals, our environment, and for the people who eat our products. Stewardship of our farm is not a passing fancy; it is a lifestyle decision and a core value of our family. We continuously strive to improve our land stewardship.
It was a great time for a visit as there were lots of new babies!
We were next introduced to a very unique process involving soldier flies as a supplement and replacement for protein. It’s extremely cost effective and a great source of nutrition. White Oak Pastures recently hosted a conference on Soldier flies that garnered world wide attention and attendance.
As mentioned, nothing on the farm goes to waste, including the animal hides.
All of our hides are salted and shipped to a tannery to become leather. We have our own water treatment plant to turn the wash down water into irrigation water for our pastures. In nature there is no waste. We endeavor to operate our abattoirs the same way.
Other unused items are perfect for pet treats.
White Oak Pastures raises not only Cheshire Hogs, but they are also one of only eight farms in the US allowed to raise Spanish Iberian pigs.
Can you tell I liked these guy just a little bit?
Everyone loves “Miss Jenni” including this farm worker’s daughter who was overjoyed to show her the new baby chick. What a cutie!
The Corporate offices and Local Area
After riding all around the farm, we toured the corporate office for White Oak Pastures.
We were also excited to learn they are in the process of building a new general store!
The anticipated open date is October this year.
After leaving the office, Jenni took us on a tour of the surrounding area in Bluffton. White Oak is purchasing several of the old homes and land to create local housing for their employees. It’s truly a beautiful area.
Upon returning to the store after our day of touring the farm and the area, we found the pups once again, exactly where we left them. 🙂
All was still right with the world.
Our White Oak Pastures adventure isn’t over yet! Don’t miss the amazing dinner hosted by White Oak Pastures on our last evening, or our adventure home!
- Part Three: Taking the Long Way Home, August 12
*We would like to say a VERY special, tremendous thank you to Jenni, Jodi, Chad and everyone at White Oak Pastures for an amazing, incredible adventure. I can’t wait to share the rest of this story! While our experience at White Oak was complimentary, all thoughts, opinions, drooling, recommendations and raving about this experience is entirely our own.
More About White Oak Pastures
To learn more about White Oak Pastures, visit their website here http://www.whiteoakpastures.com/
You have an open invitation to the farm…
We love having guests on the farm and at our processing plants. We invite you and your family, school, church group, or other organization to come and visit us. Please call in advance to be sure that someone can be available to show you what we do.
White Oak Pastures is not Disney World, but we are proud of the way we raise our livestock and produce our food. We would like for you to understand the process.
We are generally open 7 days a week anytime during daylight hours, but we can guarantee we’ll be onsite at the following times:
Monday – Friday: 8AM to 5PM
Saturday: 9AM to 6PM
Sunday: 11AM to 5PM
White Oak Pastures
22775 Highway 27
Bluffton, Georgia 39824
Call Us: (229) 641-2081
White Oak Pastures, Inc.
P.O. Box 98
Bluffton, Georgia 39824