Twenty five years ago Will Harris began transitioning their family farm in Bluffton, Georgia to a regenerative system that has since evolved into what they call a vertically integrated zero waste model. Cattle are still the backbone of the farm as they always have but they are now grassfed and integrated with several other species of livestock including pastured layers, broilers, ducks, turkeys, pigs, sheep and goats. White Oak Pastures has developed a very strong brand over the years with the focus being animal welfare, regenerative farming, and revitalizing rural communities.
What drew me to Will’s farm was the fact that he is a trailblazer in the grassfed market, building a packing house on farm in 2007 and they were the first supply wholesale grassfed meat to Whole Foods and others large chains such as Publix. Will tells me that the margins have changed considerably since they first started processing beef and they are really being squeezed by large packing plants outsourcing their grassfed purchases to offshore countries that are able to sell at a lower price point. The future seems to lie in direct to consumer retail sales through their online store. This makes the brand even more critical so consumers understand what they are buying when they purchase premium beef.
The regenerative farming model has brought many people back into the rural community of Bluffton which was a bustle first thing in the morning as crews were getting organized for their days work. Will has been able to build a business that includes two of his daughters and their spouses managing key roles in the business. Further to that there are nearly twenty managers in total and well over a hundred support staff to keep White Oak Pastures rolling. For a farm that is about 3400 acres in size that is quite a lot of people making their living directly off the farm. The farm shows no signs of slowing down as Will and team are always looking for ways to build their brand and capitalize on what they have to offer.
Enterprises that I didn’t realize White Oak Pastures had were the farm stay cabins, general store, food truck, leather shop, soap production and pet chews. Further to these value add products, White Oak Pastures is about to start adding value to local Silicon Ranch solar energy projects. This will indeed be an exciting new partnership that makes so much sense to couple regenerative agriculture with solar energy production and demonstrates the momentum that regenerative grazing is gaining.
Huge thanks to Will Harris himself and Mark Harrison for letting me inside their business and talking regenerative agriculture!