On (White Oak) Pasture
An interview with Jenni Harris of White Oak Pastures at a roundtable discussion about Regenerative Agriculture & the Savory Institute Land to Market Program.
One of the great things about participating in the food system is changing it. We’re doing our part, and we had the distinct honor of participating in a round table discussion hosted by The Savory Institute at White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, GA this past weekend. Participants included brands like EPIC Provisions and Applegate (and us), as well as scientists and producers (ranchers and growers) from around the country, Argentina and the UK. The topic of conversation revolved around regenerative agriculture – or, put more simply, how agriculture can positively affect our environment and increase biodiversity. And, more specifically, Savory’s initiative around their “Land to Market” program development – how we can use science to gauge impacts on the ecosystem and further our efforts to make the land, the animals, our economy and the end user healthier.
Will Harris runs White Oak, a farm once using conventional methods that has become an industry leader in sustainable and organic livestock farming. A fourth-generation farmer, his land is living proof of the principles of regeneration. You can see it in the grass and hear it in his undeniable passion. Once a conventional farm, White Oak now grows a diverse wildlife of cattle, chicken, hogs, duck, lamb, turkeys and goats. He’s even partnered recently with a chef and farmer from Spain to introduce Iberian pigs to his increasing 1200+ acreage in south Georgia.
Instead of harvesting the “Southern Trifecta” annual crops of corn, soy and cotton, Will and his team of 100+ grow these diverse herds on grasses and brush that suit the animals’ nature. And, in turn, cycle the land for future grazing. Further proof of positive environmental impact is the growing abundance of American Bald Eagles found in and around the farm, which is growing monthly. White Oak is also the only farm in the U.S. to be GAP-5+ Certified, a designation given only to those producers who also harvest animals to USDA specifications on their property.
The Good Kitchen has recently partnered with White Oak to include their products in our meal service. Currently, we utilize their beef, chicken and pigs. We are working to also include other species in our offerings.
We had the pleasure of sitting down for a few moments with Jenni Harris, Will’s daughter, to ask her a few questions about life on the farm and the impacts of what they do.
Q: Growing up on the farm, how were you inspired by your dad’s mission?
A: I have been blessed by this farm all of my life. Growing up at White Oak Pastures made me learn the power of responsibility and relationships early in life. I know seeing my Dad's passion for this farm has helped me grow my role here to benefit me personally and the farm professionally. I was so blessed to be 21 years old and already know my life's purpose.
Q: Do you find empowerment being a female in what is typically deemed an all-male industry?
A: Working in a male dominated industry is awesome, and I'm lucky to work with some ass-kicking women. Agriculture has changed so much in the last decade, and it's been interesting to see how many different types of people now have a place in the agriculture industry. From Marketing to IT to Inventory Management, it takes a lot of smart people to complete the circle. We are able to do what we do because of the diversity in the people who work here... women included!
Q: How has your experience at Buckhead Beef inspire the work you do today?
A: Working off the farm was an invaluable experience. At the time I was working in Atlanta, our business was so different than the Buckhead Beef model. Over the years, we have worked hard to diversify our business, which forced us to operate with more structure. The education I got working for Sysco/Buckhead Beef helped me stay patient during our constant state of change. Today, I now understand the value of procedures, communication and teamwork – all things I was first exposed to at Buckhead Beef.
Q: What makes working on the farm your dream job? What are your wishes for the future of your farm and the agriculture industry in general?
A: Seeing how things work together is the most challenging and rewarding part of my job. Raising animals with high welfare, butchering them with the skill, and finding the right people to sell them to is a process, but one that's necessary. Our vertical integration makes us unique, but must be managed closely. It takes a village....
I hope that in ten years, White Oak Pastures is continuing to find ways to utilize whole carcasses to the highest and best use. I hope that we can continue to serve good customers like The Good Kitchen, who share the same ideas about Regenerative Agriculture. Growing our community, deepening our roots, and working with like-minded people will allow us to grow the White Oak Pastures production program.
Q: Any words of inspiration for individuals looking to incorporate a more wholesome, natural, and sustainable diet?
A: Understanding every part of the production system is important. This is critical for chefs, farmers, distributors, customers and everyone in between. The food system has changed so much in the last 60 years that we all need to take a step back from our side of production to identify the challenges of others involved. What we do is relationship driven, and if we can't make those relationships, then we won't have a good understanding of what's expected of us.
Jenni Harris is a fifth-generation farmer and Director of Marketing for White Oak Pastures.