[blockquote cite=”Will Harris III” type=”center”]”If you would like to open up a lawn chair and drink a couple of glasses of wine while you watch the animal, then you have good animal welfare. No normal person enjoys watching a hen in a battery cage or a sow in a farrowing crate, or a steer wading in its own excrement.”[/blockquote]
Will Harris III from White Oak Pastures joins me to talk about his inspirational journey of converting his one time factory farm to a beyond organic farming operation that celebrates polyculture and closes the loop on wastes.
Will runs the largest USDA organic farm in Georgia farming 1200 owned acres and 2000 leased. He has over 2000 head of cattle and raises 60,000 pastured chickens. He has built two abattoirs on site – one for red meat, one for poultry. He has an organic vegetable CSA and heirloom orchard.
His farm closes the loop on sustainability through rotational grazing, solar power, and the recycling of all of his various “wastes” from his animal operations. All of the wash water, bones, and other animal “wastes” end up back on the land, building the soil over time.
But it wasn’t always that way. Prior to 1995 White Oak Pastures raised cattle in an industrial system, a monoculture. Then Will made the decision to change what he was doing. So began the conversion over the beyond organic, mulch-species thriving farming operation that it is today.
Will’s story in an inspiration, and another example of what is right in modern day agriculture.
- Converting from a conventional operation to an organic, polyculture is tough financially and there is a learning curve. You are going to need some financial strength to make it through the conversion.
- When it comes to animal welfare don’t focus on quarterly reports. It’s a long term view.
- It takes a lot of strength to make changes, and for larger operations more financial strength is required.
- Converting a conventional operation requires a lot of commitment and determination on behalf of the decision maker. In corporate industrial farming operations that can be tough due to the bureaucracy of power.
- If you are going to make the change, then find markets that are going to pay the additional premium to cover the added costs of running an operation the right way.
- Modern industrial birds are soy/corn converting machines. They won’t work on pasture. You need a bird that is closer to it’s origin.
- If you are going to run a farm, make sure it is a financially sustainable business. Avoid The Starving Artist Syndrome – Where people want ot farm, but want to do it on a scale that isn’t sustainable. They can raise the animals right, but they don’t’ make enough money to be a sustainable business.
- Will’s Change Process for his farm:
- Stopped confinement feeding, hormone implants, and the use of antibiotics.
- Stopped using chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the pastures.
- Stopped moving animals for slaughter. Built his own red meat and poultry abattoir.
- Stopped running a monoculture – both animal and plant. He diversified his animals and let diversity return to his pastures.
- “If you would like to open up a lawn chair and drink a couple of glasses of wine while you watch the animal, then you have good animal welfare. No normal person enjoys watching a hen in a battery cage or a sow in a farrowing crate, or a steer wading in its own excrement.”
- “In industrial agriculture we try to play god, we fight nature, we think we know everything, but I’d rather work with nature. I think there’s things we’re not supposed to know.”
- “It’s a journey, not a destination.”
- “Nature abhors a monoculture.”
- “There’s a hell of a lot of difference in making something the best you can make it and meeting the minimum standards.”
“The DOT is cutting an unwanted and unwelcome road through White Oak Pastures. Little good will come from this road, but the new cut did graphically illustrate the environmental benefit of our Serengeti Rotational Grazing System.
The top grey-brown strata is a solid 12 inch layer of good rich organic soil that is teeming with life. This 12 inches is on top of a hill. You would only expect to see this in a valley where the good stuff has washed down.
The reddish-yellow layer below is the dead mineral medium. This is the way that the entire soil profile looked before we began managing the land more responsibly.”
Humane & Sustainable Farming in GA: Compassion Meets White Oak Pastures
Free Bird! A Revolution in Poultry Farming
CUD: A Short Film by Joe York
A great article on White Oak from Modern Farmer.
From Factory Farm to Organic Icon: Inside White Oak Pastures by Maryn McKenna
“But White Oak is a working idyll, and it is at its best a few hours later, when the largest USDA certified-organic farm in Georgia is up and running. By mid-morning, three cowboys are setting out in trucks to check on 2,000 head of cattle. Half of the dozen field hands are taking water to the 60,000 pastured chickens; the others are headed for the new heritage pigs that just spent their first night outdoors. Meat-cutters are suiting up for the two USDA-inspected abbatoirs. People are tinkering with the solar panels, the biodiesel brewer, the egg-washer, the anaerobic digester that turns discarded blood into fertilizer.”
Read the full article HERE.
More information Will Harris & White Oak Pastures:
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