06/23/2017

White Oak Pastures: A Bold Return to Traditional Farming

By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development

Small Business Spotlight | Clay County | Region 8

Farming today looks very different from the turn of the 20th Century. Back then, the countryside was dotted with small farms that raised food needed for the family’s survival. Extra crops and livestock were sold in town to the local markets or traded for other goods and services.

Everything was used on the farm and there was absolutely no waste. It was a challenging lifestyle, with sun-up to sun-down days filled with hard work. The rise of technology and machinery allowed the rise of large commercial farms as people began to move to the cities for new opportunities. The family farm all but disappeared…

But there are a few farms bucking this trend, including White Oak Pastures.

 

Just south of the community of Bluffton lies the 2,500 acres that is home to grazing cows, sheep and goats. Modules that once bailed cotton have been converted into mobile coops used to house chickens. Iberian hogs now dine on a diet of pecans and peanuts. In all, there are 100,000 beating hearts at White Oak Pastures.

As commercial farming continued to trend, Will Harris was concerned about the health of the land and began the process of reviving the traditional family farm that provided for local needs with zero waste. Could he and the Harris family convert White Oak Pastures into a farm that employed the best practices of sustainable agriculture?

On any given day, staff at White Oak Pastures humanely processes 35 head of cattle per day and 1,000 chickens. Both processing facilities are zero-waste operations with byproducts that include liquid organic fertilizer, bone meal and compost that are used as soil amendments for White Oak’s Certified Organic pastures.

All of the animal hides are salted and shipped to a tannery to become leather. White Oak Pastures has an on-site water treatment plant to convert the wash down water into irrigation water for their pastures. All of these activities help to eliminate waste.

The Harris family has continued to innovate the way that the farm is operated and expand services that are available. Originally added as a necessity to provide the employees a place to eat, the Harris’ have added an on-site restaurant where visitors to White Oak can dine at wooden picnic-style tables alongside the employees of White Oak. The menu includes hamburgers, sandwiches and daily entrees, each of which is sourced from items grown on the farm.

Jodi Harris Benoit, the Harris’ youngest daughter, is the in-house marketing manager and focuses on “all things tourism” and how they can create new experiences for visitors. Dotted throughout the property are six cabins and houses that are perfect for couples, families and small groups wanting to experience the farm in a truly unique fashion.

White Oak Pastures offers a number of events that visitors can take part in, with activities that include farm tours, soil health, beekeeping, and seeding classes. They are even hosting a Tough Mudder event for the more adventurous athletes! Check out their events page for the schedule and availability.

Recently, a new guest has taken-up residence at White Oak. Each winter, up to 80 bald eagles migrate to roosts around the farm. The eagles are attached to the free range chickens that dot the landscape. The chickens serve an important role on the farm: as they scratch for food, they replenish the land, leaving behind a more fertile pasture for cows and other grazing animals. Even though the eagles feast on the chickens, White Oak Pastures has turned this potential negative into a positive by offering bald eagle tours for visitors on the farm.

But perhaps one of the largest transformations has been within the town of Bluffton. The Harris’ renovated a former pharmacy and moved their General Store into town in late 2016. This was important to the community as it is the only place in town where you can buy anything other than a stamp at the Post Office. Visitors can pick up all things White Oak as well as fresh meat and in-season vegetables harvested at the Farm.

Want to learn more about the 150–year legacy of White Oak Pastures, their conversion from a commercial farm to sustainable agriculture and where to find their products or book a visit? Check them out online, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TripAdvisor.

Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development, at (404) 877-8406 or [email protected].

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